December 28, 2011

Best. Christmas. Ever.

Maybe Christmas, he thought... doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps... means a little bit more!  (_How the Grinch Stole Christmas_ by Dr. Suess)

In year's past, we have prepared with cookies and other things and celebrated Christmas for the whole month of December--mainly the preparing part.  This year, we decided to try to keep gifts simple and prepare our hearts for remembering the Advent of Christ.  We did an advent wreath on Sundays and, as much as our schedule allowed, kept up our Advent calendar.  Eric found an Advent daily devotional that he read at dinner.  I tried a different Advent devotional, though I probably should have focused on something else because after two weeks, the kids had memorized the Christmas story.  In terms of preparing things, we limited the preparation to one day of decorating in early December and baking whatever cookies I could the week before Christmas, when we didn't have school activities.  We just baked three different kids of cookeis, based on family preferences.  As a family, we spent one night decorating gingerbread cookies and making a gingerbread house which was extra fun because my husband is such a goofball.  On Christmas morning, the kids eagerly checked their stockings and then, more leisurely opened their gifts.  The kids did not receive any toys from us--two of them are getting a little old for toys.  However, everyone enjoyed the gifts we were given and a lot of thought went into many of the presents.  Everyone received a surprise and we all got what we wanted.  We spent the day hanging out together and getting the dinner ready.

1.  I did not cry once in frustration or stress in trying to "do it all."
2.  I did not "share" my stress with others because there was a lot less of it and between God and me, it was easily handled.
3.  Post-present clean up was minimal and there was no extra work involved in trying to find room for things.
4.  I felt the peace of God, which passes all understanding and made sure to pass it on to my family.

As an early Christmas present and confirmation to keep up the good work we started this Christmas, Elz came up to me on Christmas Eve and told me that this was the first year she really felt Jesus in our house.  Mission accomplished.

"Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect."  1 Peter 1:17-19

December 19, 2011

Real life examples from the Bible

Yesterday, God brought to my attention the fact that sometimes the Bible speaks simultaneously in terms of poetical imagery and down to earth facts of life.    While walking the dog yesterday, this tree caught my eye and I had to take a picture.  It isn't a very good picture, so I am going to describe it.  A lemon tree died and for some reason, the people living there decided to leave the stump.  From that stump, a branch sprouted and from that branch leaves and fruit have blossomed.  The passage I remembered from seeing it is Isaiah 11:1-5.  I am going to copy both the NIV version for its poetry and The Message translation for its down-to-earth practicality.

NIV (1984)
   A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; 
   from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 
   The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, 
   the Spirit of counsel and of power, 
   the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

   He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
   but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
 with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
   He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
    Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The Message:
A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse's stump, from his roots a budding Branch.
The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him, the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding, The Spirit that gives direction and builds strength, the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-God.  Fear-of-God will be all his joy and delight.  He won't judge by appearances, won't decide on the basis of hearsay.  He'll judge the needy by what is right, render decisions on earth's poor with justice. His words will bring everyone to awed attention. A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked.  Each morning he'll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots, and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.

Of course, this passage really is talking about Jesus, about his lineage, coming from the line of David, son of Jesse and about his character and his work.  But isn't it a comforting thought that God takes something dead (or is it only mostly dead?), whether a tree or some part of our heart and causes it to bear fruit?  And isn't it wonderful of Him to give us concrete reminders of His power and His love?

Happy Advent!  Six more days until Christmas

December 17, 2011

An Excerpt from _Beholders of the Rising Sun_ by David Plaep

Very many thanks to my BIL and SIL, Daddin' Around and Just KT, who I believe gave me _Beholders of the Rising Sun_ by David Plaep when Eric and I were either just about to be married or our first Christmas as a family of three.  If they didn't, whoever did, please forgive me for my faulty memory and know that it is really you that I am thanking.  I remember reading it that first Christmas Eve.  Several times, I had to put it down to let some of the thoughts really sink into my poor, pitiful, brain.  It helped me appreciate Christmas in a whole new way.  I have read it several times since then and I would like to share a section of it with you.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I have, and may you have a blessed Advent season.

"The Word become flesh and made his dwelling among us..." (John 1:14)

The power of the Most High overshadowed Mary and the Word became flesh.  In that moment, a parting....
By the words of Moses in the book of Deuteronomy, we know that there is only one God:

"Hear O Isreal, the Lord our God the Lord is one."

However, at the beginning of the Apostle John's Gospel, God reveals an additional, mysterious truth about Himself:

"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God."

The Lord is one--but the He is also intimately plural.  

The relationship that our intimately plural God experiences stretches far beyond our understanding.  In fact, like little children who have only the most vague idea that Daddy and Mommy are also husband and wife, we may not even give a thought to the private live of our intimately plural God.  Like little children who cannot possibly understand the unique and mysterious pleasures of a man and woman in one-flesh relationship, we cannot comprehend the depth of pleasure and love that Father, Son and Spirit have always enjoyed together.  But the truth is, passion and desire are written in God's name:

"...the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." (Exodus 34:14)

Jealous..God's name is Jealous!

In his name, His eternal nature--such passion, such intense feelings!  The astonishing revelation in this name, Jealous, is that God has always lived an intensely passionate life.  This was true before anyone or anything was created.  

Throughout eternity, Father, Son and Spirit have been profoundly happy together; delighting in their perfect Goodness, Purity, Power and Beauty.  Their love for each other burns intensely; exquisite desire for each other--deep, everlasting pleasure.  More than anything else in the universe, this perfect love that our intimately plural God has always lived in should be jealously guarded.  It should never be disrupted.  And yet...

...The Word became flesh...

Father, Son and Spirit approached the womb of Mary and stood at the threshold of unspeakable pain.  In the moment when the Most High overshadowed Mary...a parting.  A painful, tearing in the life of God; in the way the Father, Son and Spirit have always lived.

God with God became God with us--to eventually become sin for us

In the moment when the Most High overshadowed Mary, the first groans of the Spirit--too deep for words--lifted in lament from this fallen world.

December 12, 2011

Letting go

The first weekend in December was an incredibly difficult weekend.  My Grandma Carmichael held an estate sale to get her house ready to sell.  She had lived in that house for about 50 years, spending most of her married life in it.  She and grandpa had helped design the house and it was lovely.  There is a porch between the carport and the house that has a roof and skylight so that you can sit outside in the middle of Tusconian summers and be comfortable.  It had orange trees, a pecan tree and a "fruit salad tree", producing grapefruit, oranges and lemons.  She hadn't been living in it quite a while, having moved to retirement housing five years ago after her house was robbed.  She had been renting it at "blessing rates" to help missionaries and others who needed low cost housing.  The problem is that renters don't treat a house as their own and renting tends to be more trouble than any money generated.  As much as she hated to do it, she knew that it was time to let go.

The sale was a success in that she made money and almost everything was sold.  She had done most of the work preparing for the sale, pulling things down from the walls and out of closets and cupboards, pricing them, letting friends and family chose from her stuff weeks before the event as a blessing.  I had gone down for a day before we left for Thanksgiving to grab things she had made, like quilts and afghans and a few pictures, as well as some stuff for the patio.  I also decided to take the china that belonged to her mother, wanting to keep it in the family as long as possible.  I asked her at the time how she was coping with it all.  I think at the time, she was too busy pricing things to have it really absorb.  The day of the sale arrived with a threat of rain coming down all day, though it stopped by mid-morning.  We set everything up in the carport, the porch and opened up the dining room where most of the furniture, pictures and linens were kept.  Within minutes of putting up the signs, even before she had returned, people were coming up to the house checking out the stuff.  There were hagglers and stragglers and browsers for two days.  I think then, it must have really started to hit her because, for the first time in my life, I saw her get REALLY upset about some things.  I was getting upset because my kids were in one room doing some school and watching movies and people were going beyond the boundaries of where things were and poking into all rooms.  One lady emerged from a bathroom where we stashed anything we didn't want to sell clutching a quilt my grandma made asking what it cost.  She seemed upset when we told her nothing in the bathroom was for sale. I had to put up signs telling people that nothing in the kitchen was for sale and to keep out of the rooms where we had things.  The hardest thing to see sold was my grandmother's bedroom set, the one that she and grandpa had shared during their 50 year marriage.  It sold for far less than the worth of the memories.

Before I left town to return to Phoenix, I stopped by to see my other grandmother, Nana, living in a nursing home and slowly succumbing to Alzheimers.  My favorite time to see her is actually in the afternoon, when she is in her bed flitting between sleep and consciousness, when we can have "conversations" uninterrupted by other Alzheimer's patients.  With her sunken cheeks and toothless smile and wispy white hair surrounding her face, she  reminds me more and more of a female version of the old man who cleaned up Woody in "Toy Story 2" and who also played chess against himself to win back his dentures in a Pixar short.  She no longer speaks coherently, though there have been times when I believe that she has understood what I said but replied in a new language created by Alzheimers.  Each time I visit, I mention people she should know to see if there is any sign of remembrance.  Her eyes still lit up when I talked about her mother and dad, whom I remember from my childhood.  They lit up when I talked about my mother. But I remember when those eyes  used to twinkle and dance with mischief and joy, not dully shine through age-glazed eyes.  I showed her pictures of my kids on my iPhone and she watched, entranced, though I doubt she knew who they were.  She got confused when I started talking about my husband, Eric, because her memory is of my cousin, Aric, who died many years ago as a young man.  She started talking in her new language and out of the jumble of words, there were a few that seemed to indicate that she remembered him and that he had died.  I showed her a picture of my Eric on my iPhone and told her that this was to whom I referred and watched the light in her eye dim with ignorance, even though she had attended our wedding and held several of our kids in her arms back when her mind was (nearly) whole. Each time I visit, I make sure to tell her how much I love her and miss her and how I will see her soon.  Saying good-bye is especially tough because I don't know when or if I will get the chance to see her again.  The one wry comfort I had as I left was that she was probably going to forget I existed within moments of leaving her, cutting the pain of "good-byes" short, at least for her.

As I left, I realized that, as hard as it is to let go of houses filled with memories, it is even harder to let go of the people who filled them.  My time with both grandmas is much shorter now than when I was a young, single woman or even an older, married woman.  Nana is literally living on borrowed time with an anuerism in her aorta that was supposed to have killed her three years ago.  I even see my other grandma slowing down as she approaches 83 years of life.  I know that I am not the only one going through this process of letting go and I know that I will most likely have to go through it again with my own parents and my in-laws in another twenty years.  The really good news in all of this, however, is bound up in the current season--Christmas.  It is a time when God initiated his last covenant, which would undo the death and decay ushered in by sin from the time it started in Adam and Eve and it started with a baby--new life to bring us new life.

" Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ's sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately—at the end of the ages—become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you. It's because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God."  1 Peter 1:18-21 (The Message)

December 10, 2011

Stationery card

Holly Year Christmas Card
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December 6, 2011

Waking up with songs in my head

Each morning, I usually wake up with some song in my head.  Sometimes, a song stays in my head all day.  For two horrific days a few weeks ago, it was "Wonderful Christmastime", penned by the hookmeister-but-not-versemeister Paul McCartney (I really hate that song, even more than "Feliz Navidad!").  I can feel it wanting to creep back into my mind, so I will quickly share with you the song that started out playing in my head this morning.  I like it, even if it is a bit repetitive, because of the play between the men and the women and the fact that it praises God by a lot of His titles/names.  It sounds great in congregational singing and I bet it would be even cooler sung in our church, one repetition in English and one in Spanish.


So far, my intention to really focus on Christ's coming has been going well, praise and thanks to God.  I am using some reading plans on my iPad Bible app focusing on repentence and the goodness of God.  The kids and I are reading Bible passages that relate to the Christmas story.  I am done with three out of four gifts for my family and I am close to finishing the last one.  I need a little help from my daughter for the gifts I am giving to the boys because some of it involves crocheting, which is not an area of expertise.  He has been showing me how to make Christmas fun.  I just have to make the certificates for all the fun things we will be giving the kids that are not items, but things they want to do.  We have not seen the inside of a store yet, but I do need to get an outfit for her Aerials show.  I think a daytime trip will be most welcome by all but the boys.

Happy Advent!

December 3, 2011

House vs. Home

"A house is made of boards and beams; A home is made of love and dreams."

You can tell a lot about a person from how they decorate.  The above quote is one of the first things you see walking into Nana and Poppa's house.  The other thing you will see at least when you leave is this picture:

They have a beautiful house filled with antique furniture and pictures, though most of what they own are actually family heirlooms that they have restored.  Everything in their house is fun, relaxing, and welcoming,  from their incredibly comfy sofas and chairs in the living room, to the kitchen with benches around three sides of the table that almost invite you curl up for extended birdwatching or gathering people around to play games or even (gasp) eat together!  Two of the kids' favorite places in the house are the "Relaxation Station," which is a cozy nook in a closet with lots of books to read and "Narnia,"  a room created from the attic storage space when they added on to the farmhouse to create a second bathroom.  It is a simple sleeping room that can be only accessed by going through the closet, which is what inspired the name.

pictures on a lovely old knicknack stand
pictures of grandkids and pictures by grandkids
Pictures of grandkids in kids' room
The other thing you will notice is how many pictures of family and friends are scattered throughout the house.  The side of their refrigerator is covered almost from top to bottom with pictures.  And they have pictures of their parents, kids and grandkids from various ages in almost every room.  In the "kids' room", where most of the grandkids sleep during nana/poppa sleepovers, the pictures are all of them when they were toddlers or younger.  In their office, they have a huge framed collage of nana with ALL of her grandkids--14 in all, mostly when they were babies.  They even have a couple of family portraits taken with their parents as babies.  Anyone with any reasoning ability can figure out that people are important to the people living in the house, especially family.

However, my favorite picture of all doesn't involve people, but is a really great reminder for those who are on an extended visit, or who will use the upstairs guest bathroom because the lower one is occupied. It reminds me of how God has deliberately put people in my life for perfectly good reasons.