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Monthly Archives: December 2012

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The Gift of Uncomfortable.

This week I’m looking back on some of the amazing God has let me have this year. Here’s one of my favorite posts from July. The gift of uncomfortable.

I wake up Sunday morning and gaze out at the sunlit meadows outside the living-room windows, and I just stare. Mostly because I just woke up, but also because I know that this is beauty defined and for whatever reason right now, I get to live here. Right in the middle of beautiful. Smack in the midst of serene.

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I wonder where the horses are, the ones that usually graze that meadow just south of our flat in the country, and I think about how much I don’t know of this place I now call home. I realize I have no idea where that road beyond the meadow leads. I don’t even know if that’s really south. Maybe it’s east. Or west. Maybe when I see those horses, I look towards home.

I open my journal to the next empty space, grab my Bible and a pen and my copy of Jesus Calling. I come back here every morning first thing. Not because I feel like I should or because I want to impress God or anything. I come back here every morning first thing because in all honesty I know I will face all kinds of uncomfortable today, and I don’t know how I can. And coming here, “relaxing in the company of God” is really the only comfortable I feel like I still have. And that is how I want to start my every today. In the lap of comfortable, even here in this land of so much uncomfortable.

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Don’t get me wrong — I have my family here with me in this land where dogs don’t need leashes and people keep track of them anyway. I have the other half of me, in the form of my husband, who stays constant and faithful and loves me always and no matter what. And I have the two girlies whose giggles and kisses and naked Barbies keep me sane and insane and laughing, too. But the comfortable of life that I knew just six weeks ago, the stuff I didn’t even know I relied on to make me feel ”at home” is mostly gone for now. So I open my Bible to hear God’s familiar voice, and I can relax in the company of God Himself.

In quietness and trust is your strength. (Isaiah 30:15)

And six weeks into this adventure, what I know of comfortable has become words on a page. Word of God on pages.

I feel many emotions as I walk this adventure. Invigorated. Breathless. Excited. Amazed. Afraid. But rarely do I feel comfortable. Because, although so much is the same in this land of the Deutsch, nearly everything feels different. Because tiny details like how to get gasoline are foreign and different, and some days I just want it to be easy. Like asking for the bill at the local pizzeria. Or ordering 800 grams of ground beef from the deli counter. When I face these everyday tasks, I remember that what I know of comfortable is nowhere near me for now.

I realize that this is a gift — this opportunity to live here in this beautiful place where the people are so kind and the hills are so grand. Believe me, I know this. But please realize for me that leaving what I know of comfortable was one of the most difficult things I have had to do in my adult life. Because I like my life in the States. Oh, and I really like to be comfortable. Stretching is hard, and I don’t like exercise. And that is what many days feel like. The kind of exercise that builds endurance — the running up hills kind that hurts the lungs and the quads and the abs (thank you, my friend, for that perfect analogy).

But what I know of comfortable is now gone forever. Because, although I will go home next year, I know that the stretching and the endurance-building and this vacation away from comfortable is making me okay with living outside of my comfort-zone. Forever. It’s tearing away the roots I have grown in the comfortable that I have sadly come to rely on. If I am completely honest, I have to admit that what I know of comfortable has held me back from what I don’t know of living. And I am not okay with that.

So I look for comfortable redefined until what I know of comfortable one day becomes uncomfortable. And I look for the real living even as I linger outside the comfortable, and I know I will find it.

When God Grows Your Kids

By far, one of the best gifts of the entire year has been watching my daughters grow so tangibly. One of my favorite gifts of all time was the one I received eleven years ago today when my oldest daughter was born. In honor of her birthday, I thought I’d re-post one of my favorites about watching God work His amazing in her right in front of my eyes . . .

We watched God work a miracle in our little girl during the weeks that led up to her time away at Schullandheim. The girl who, as a one-year-old, shied away from falling leaves. She didn’t like what she could not control. It scared her. She got that from me. But now, my oldest daughter has become braver than I ever imagined. Because God helped us find our unafraid.

She was, shall we say, less than thrilled at the prospect of going away with her class for three days. Her class full of students who speak little or no English. Teachers who know how to translate most words, except when they don’t. But she was going, we had decided, because it was an opportunity to watch God work. To see Him grow her unafraid as she stepped way beyond her comfort-zone and into a foreign place full of unknowns.

I’d been less than thrilled, too. At first. Until my Mann reminded me of the reasons we’d started this whole one-year-in-Germany-adventure. After that, I put on my unafraid and helped my daughter find hers.

She wore it beautifully.That’s what God used to help her get on that bus. And I know that her own unafraid grew into a kind of courage such as I did not know she had. The kind that inspires her classmates and her teachers because of where it comes from. God Himself.

And now, she can say that she spent three days away from her parents in a foreign land full of German-speakers. That fact, I believe will one day serve as a turning point for her.  Yes, she survived Schullandheim with flying colors, even had a bit of fun. She came home wearing the kind of I-did-it-confidence that uses unafraid as a girdle. The kind that stays. Forever.

To say I am proud of how she let God be her enough is to not even touch the surface of how I feel. For, that girl has matured exponentially since she got home that Friday three weeks ago.

All because God helped us find our unafraid. And we weren’t afraid to wear it.

The Gift of Unafraid

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He gave me the words at the beginning of the year. But I didn’t unwrap it until October, really.

Life. Unafraid.

A gift I will treasure the rest of my days. The unafraid to live and enjoy the right now. Because God is good no matter what and always. And He is the only anyone worthy of my fear.

I recount Christmas and the gifts God presented me this past year, and I cannot say thank You enough to the One Who gave me the Unafraid. To live.

This week, I’m looking back on some of my favorite posts from the past year. Recounting some of my 2012 gifts. Wading through some amazing promises Jesus fulfilled in His first advent called Christmas. Recounting some of what He’s let me unwrap over the past year. Celebrating the gifts that are mine to keep.

Spiritually speaking, what has He given you this year? What has He let you unwrap? I always love opening a gift or two the week after Christmas. So let’s do it here.

Here’s how you can join in:

  • Leave a comment and tell us what God has given you this year. We’ll celebrate it together.
  • Email me and tell me about it. So I can be happy with you. I mean, who doesn’t love it when someone else helps celebrate a gift?
  • Go to my page on facebook and tell the community there all about it.
  • Tweet about it and use the hashtag #RecountingChristmas.

Can’t wait to continue the celebration with you!

 

Recounting Christmas

Last year we ran a week-long series on the devotional blog I help to write. We called it Recounting Christmas. We did it so we could keep celebrating Christmas even after the gifts were all opened and the paper all thrown away. I thought it would be fun to post it over here this year. You know, because who doesn’t like to keep unwrapping Christmas gifts even after Christmas is done?

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This one was based on Isaiah 61.

He arrived naked, completely bare but bearing such weight as we have never known. And all mankind would ever need. This we celebrate each December 25. God wearing flesh, becoming man.

Heaven exploded in praise the minute He arrived in that dirty forgotten stable meant for animals and hay. The long-awaited, forever-ago promised answer to the problem of sin and death and dirty, grimy souls trenched in the mire of guilt and shame had finally come! The angel-choirs burst out in joy, unable to hold back their excitement of the moment. The One Creation had longed for since the fruit of Eden’s only restriction.

Not just Christmas morning, but Christmas moment.

Most of mankind would not know the many gifts He brought until long after the First Noel. Far past the magi’s visit. The gift of His coming was certainly enough, but He brought more than just His Presence. He brought the very revelation of God Himself. Because of Christmas morning and baby Jesus, man can know God and see Him for Who He is. Because of Christmas moment, we have access to Who God is.

Oh, the gifts He presented Christmas moment!

He brought light and life and truth and hope. He brought freedom for captives and comfort and beauty and gladness. He brought restoration for the broken-down. New life for the living dead. Jesus brought all the riches of life itself. And He gave us a way to inherit them.

And what we got for Christmas was Christmas itself. God and each of His promises wrapped up in a baby man.

This week we will look back on all that Jesus gave us in Christmas. We’ll wade through some amazing promises Jesus fulfilled in His first advent called Christmas. Recount all He’s let us unwrap over the past year. A bit more personal as we look back on the year and celebrate the gifts that are ours to keep.

Spiritually speaking, what has He given you this year? What has He let you unwrap? I always love opening a gift or two the week after Christmas. So let’s do it here.

Here’s how you can join in:

  • Leave a comment and tell us what God has given you this year. We’ll celebrate it together.
  • Email me and tell me about it. So I can be happy with you. I mean, who doesn’t love it when someone else helps celebrate a gift?
  • Go to my page on facebook and tell the community there all about it.
  • Tweet about it and use the hashtag #RecountingChristmas.

Can’t wait to continue the celebration with you!

What’s Christmas Supposed To Be?

I wonder how many times Mary found herself thinking,

It was NOT supposed to be like this!

A stable for a delivery room? Couldn’t God have hooked up His newborn Son with at least a crib? Traveling so far on a donkey at the end of my ninth month of pregnancy because of a census? I would have thought God might have had Quirinius wait at least another few weeks, so I could give birth in my hometown, near my mom and the people I love. Instead, the baby’s first visitors were stinky strangers just come from the fields with their sheep.,

I think I would have gotten frustrated by the whole escaping-to-Egypt thing, too. I mean, really, why would the Father let King Herod go on such a tyrade? Trying to eliminate the King I’d born?

I woud have found myself regularly thinking, It wasn’t supposed to be like this!

I wonder how many times the Father reminded her of her commitment from the first. The one where she surrendered her what-she-expected to the service of God.

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But that was only the beginning.

What about the time the twelve-year-old Son of God stayed back at the temple while Mary and Joseph traveled on and couldn’t find Him? No, I would have been thinking, the Son of God is not supposed to worry His parents like that! And as He pushed Himself up by the feet for every last breath on that cross, I would have screamed it as I stood watching. Disbelieving.

It was NOT supposed to be like this!

I read the story of Jesus’ birth and of Mary and of Joseph. Read fresh the part where the shepherds told what the angels had said. When Mary hid it all inside her heart. Kept it there for safe pondering.

I wonder how often Mary pulled out those treasures later in life, after the torturous screams only a mother who’s lost a child can really know. After the victory dance in Gethsemane with her Savior-Son Who’d conquered death. I wonder if she ever pulled them out from that place in her heart and thought,

Oh, I guess it WAS supposed to be like this. I get it now.

These past few days have not been anything at all like I expected for the few days before Christmas 2012. We traveled home for the two weeks surrounding Christmas so we could celebrate and enjoy and relax and visit. But these days have taken us through a stomach flu which landed my youngest in the hospital for a day and half. We have seen more doctors than we’ve seen friends. And Christmas Eve with my sister and her family has been postponed by a week. I find myself thinking how it wasn’t supposed to be like this. It is not what we had planned.

And, somehow, it’s helping me admire Mary more than I ever have. It’s opening my eyes to the truth of God’s sovereign hand that says what goes and how and when. It’s reminding me that this whole Christmas thing, well, it’s not really about what I think it should be at all. It’s about Him.

I started this Christmas season asking Jesus what I could give Him. I think He’s been pretty clear. He wants my surrendered trust and confidence in Who He is. He wants my expectant joy and my peace and my solid faith in His I’ve-got-this-taken-care-of-in-every-detail-of-every-part-of-it. So today I’m gonna’ wrap it up for Him.

I’m going to give Him my what-I-expected and look for real Christmas joy inside His hand. I am His servant.

But This is Christmas

My daughter’s class Christmas party included songs and talent displays and cookies and Gluhwein and punch. But you already know that. I told you about it yesterday.

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After the songs, in which some of the children acted out a live nativity scene with Maria und Josef und das Christkind, we entered the classroom where candles were lit around an advent wreath and cookies presented so people could visit. The middle of the room is what caught my attention, though.

Twenty-four tea light candles formed a path to a felted nativity scene in which Baby Jesus and all the big players of Christmas Day sat quietly displayed. More than half the candles, lit, the glow and the greenery were beautiful.

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I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Couldn’t stop snapping pictures, either. I was intrigued and excited to be living in a place where it’s okay to say Jesus is the main point of Christmas. The reason for it, even.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Another mom stood close, admiring as I did. I spoke in my broken-German.

It’s beautiful, I said. She agreed. I snapped more photos, trying different angles. Then I told her that in the USA, we wouldn’t be allowed to put something like this in a classroom. Why? She asked. I used what words I knew to explain that too many people would be offended.

That’s when she looked at me and said, Aber das ist Weihnachten. But this is Christmas.

I like Germans.

Talking Old Times and Making New Ones

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We’ve been attending classroom Christmas parties the last two evenings. School parties for us this year include parents and siblings. They also include Gluhwein and Angel Punch and lots of sweet treats.

I love Christmas parties. At home in Ohio, my dear friend usually hosts a Christmas brunch during the first part of December. Everyone wears something different than our normal mom-day outfits and brings something to eat. Then we hang out and love on each other and kids go in the basement while we get our Christmas party on. It’s one of my favorite Christmas things.

When I was a kid, my family always had lots of different Christmas parties to attend. There was the one with our closest family friends where we’d trade houses and names and gifts. We’d eat dinner together and all of us hang out.

Then there was the one on Christmas Eve with my mom’s side of the family. We would trade names so everyone got one gift. Except the kids. We got two – one from our designated name-draw-er and one from Grandma.

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We’d have the one at Grandpa’s house, too. Sometimes we’d go there after Christmas Eve with Grandma. Sometimes it was Christmas Day. There were lots of people and Christmas music and adult punch and kids’ punch.

And my dad’s cousin always had a party, too. A huge Italian family and all of their friends stuffed into their house in Buena Park, California. That was Christmas Eve, too. Wow! Christmas Eve was busy, I guess. They always had tons of pizelles and different cookies. And one time, they served caviar, and my mom didn’t know until it was too late. She found out too late. We still talk about that.

I still get excited when I get ready to go to a Christmas party. I love making the memories. Hanging out with people around special decor and food and music. Talking old times and making new ones. It’s one of my favorite parts of Christmas.

Do you have a favorite part of the Christmas season?

How To Travel Well With Children?

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We lived four hours away from extended family until my oldest was five years old. Early in our marriage, my husband and I decided we would make a concerted effort to honor our parents, even as grown ups.  As such, we prayed about how we might best do that, even while establishing our own home. Usually, that meant visiting them every few months and many holiday.

So we drove those four hours a lot. Four hours straight across two states whose biggest mountain together is a sand dune.

We drove the turnpike from South Bend, Indiana to Northeast Ohio. An easy drive. (Except the time I drove through a monsoon-like rainstorm that covered the entire midwest. It took me and my one- and three-year-old well over six hours. That was not an easy drive.)

One year, on our way home for Thanksgiving, we got stuck in traffic at the state border that took an extra two hours to get through. So many cars had to stop and pay the toll at the border, cars were bumper-to-bumper stopped up for about 5 miles.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This year we will travel overseas for Christmas. We leave here on Thursday to go home for two weeks. To love on our parents and our friends and our families. To be loved on, too. Needless to say, we’re excited.

Except for one little thing. I don’t really like airplanes. It’s kind of a secret that I’ve only recently come to terms with.

I used to love everything about them. The checking in. Walking really fast to the gate to find a seat so we could sit and wait for them to call our row. I somehow really enjoyed the thrill of knowing I was leaving wherever here was and going to end up in some other place. I loved the sounds of the stewardess button dinging. And the pilots voice. I loved the movies and the peanuts and the Sprite with the ice in those little plastic cups.

Then I started traveling with kids.

My oldest was eight-months when we flew for the first time with her. It started with her falling off the seat while we got our bags situated, banging her head on the metal strip that held the seat in front of us. It ended with a good flight. But that was only after and an ambulance ride and a CAT scan which showed no ill effects. Needless to say, it was less than ideal.

We added a second child to our family by the time we flew together again as a family. This time, it was an eight hour God-knows-how-many-minutes flight to Paris, France for a four-month expat assignment. No ambulances or emergency rooms this time. Only a few episodes of air-sickness for our then three-year-old and a nursing baby who refused to eat. Good times.

I think that’s when I started disliking airplanes so much. Not really fear. I just really dislike the experience of it. The stress that comes with the journeying. So many variables I cannot control.

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But the end completely justifies the means for me. Absoutely no doubt about it. And I would do it even more often if it meant seeing more new places. Or visiting more people I love.

I don’t want to dread the traveling, though. I want to enjoy it. After all, it will take us the better part of two days when it’s all said and done. One to get there. One to get back.

I want to unwrap it like the gift that it is. The I’ll-be-home-for-Christmas that requires the I-have-to-get-there-first. I want to soak it in for all it’s worth. A part of Christmas just like the songs and the gift-wrap and the Advent wreaths.

So here’s where I ask you, my dear friends, how can I do that? Any advice for our upcoming plane rides? How to help my kids enjoy it? How to enjoy it myself? If you would be so kind as to leave a comment or send me an email with your thoughts, I would be ever so grateful.

And I promise to do my best to enjoy the gift of the journey. Then I’ll tell you all about it. After I get home.

Four Candles That Point To Jesus

We went to our first German church service yesterday. Our little friend sings in a choir whose job was to perform there. At Sankt Georgen.

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Yesterday was the 3rd Sunday of Advent, so we got to sing German hymns about Jesus and His coming. Two huge green wreaths hung from the ceiling on either side of the lectern. Each held four red candles. Three of them were lit, one sat untouched. It will burn next week.

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The church needed no other decoration, for the organ pipes and the shields from the 1700’s hanging on the soffets beneath the balcony were beautiful enough. Not to mention the painted ceiling. Seriously, the church was amazing.

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I had lots of time to admire its magnificence, since I really didn’t understand most of what the minister said. Of course, I did this as discreetly as possible, so as not to be rude or distract her from her own worship. (The priest was a woman.)

The excellence with which all of it was done led me to a different kind of worship. The meaning behind the beauty painted all over that place of worship struck a deep chord in my soul. I found myself praising God because He is worth the most treasured painting. He is worth far more than even the most excellent craftsmanship. Almighty God is worth every ounce of hard work the designers of that church put into its beauty.

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So much about the whole experience made me feel like we were inside a Christmas movie. All of us squished together in a pew. The youngest flashing sour looks at her older sister who wouldn’t scooch over. Trying to keep up with the hymn numbers, not knowing when to let the organist sing and when to join him with our own voices. Eyes wandering all over the place while the pastor spoke words we didn’t understand.

But there was something particularly meaningful about being there during Advent season. The beauty of an Advent wreath and the candles it held. The story their radiance represented. The Light of Life shining in that beautiful sanctuary. Something about all of the tradition filled my heart in a new sort of way.

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I crafted a really pretty Advent wreath two years ago. It was the first Christmas season we methodically lit the candles each Sunday and discussed the weekly readings. We’ve done it each year since. Only this year I got a new wreath. It’s German.

I love lighting those candles, each week. Every Sunday adding one more and reading its corresponding Scripture. Week 1: The Prophecy Candle of Hope. Week 2: Love. Oh, how He loves us! Week 3: The Joy God of the Shepherds, whom God told first. You know, those stinky, dirty “unimportant” sheep watchers. Week 4: Peace. The complete He makes us when we trust that Jesus holds all we need. That He is all we need.

These thoughts ran through my mind randomly yesterday as I admired the church from behind my daughter’s puffy purple coat in our small, crowded pew. I watched the three flames burn brightly from those wreaths. I considered the meaning that makes those candles so beautiful.

And I worshipped Him because of what those candles mean.

Does your family have an Advent wreath? What kinds of things help you at Christmas to worship God for the amazing that Christmas means?

The Packages of Christmas

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI knew it would be an early morning. Today we celebrate our we’re-going-home-for-two-weeks-and-do-not-have-room-in-our-suitcases-to-take-our-Christmas-gifts-with-us Christmas morning traditions. So we opened our gifts this morning. I was right. The girls woke us up at 6:45.

My Mann and I spent last evening wrapping gifts while watching the black-smoke-John-Locke recruit helpers for his evil plan. (We’re in season 6 of Lost.) We shut the door to the living room and instructed our kids to knock if they needed anything at all. We also gave them instructions to let each other sleep until nature awoke them today. Apparently, 6:45 was the magic number.

But, really, who can blame them? I used to do the same thing. Only my early was almost last night’s late. (See the note under Song #6 from yesterday’s post.)

There is something so magical about gifts all wrapped up special just for me that keeps sleep from grabbing a strong hold on the night before Christmas. And that magic is not lost on my kids.

I was never really good at wrapping gifts when I was a kid. My scissor lines were never straight. The corners were always more mashed into submission than folded into beautiful. And, unless the stars were aligned just right and the wind was blowing at the perfect speed from the north-south-east and west, I could never make a good bow. I still really can’t.

But I have always had a fondness for packages all wrapped tight. The big ribbons and the paper and the tag with the names. To me, it is the thoughtful expression of a detail that could have been left undone.

For a long time, I used plain brown kraft paper as my only means of Christmas wrap. That and some big, beautiful ribbon tied neatly around was my signature Christmas wrap. Then I had kids who’d rather have snowmen and bright colors and curly ribbons. So I gave up the signature and decided it was not about me anyway.

I still like the signature look. But the fun of cute wrapping paper is growing on me as my girls grow bigger.

Yes, I love packages all wrapped up and ready. The picture of anitipation. An image of something special that someone has gone out of the way to present. The thought of the time someone put into delivering, well, anything, I love it.

My oldest was born three days after Christmas. A little package all wrapped up in a 6 pound, 3 ounce person. We called her a late Christmas gift.

I love the story of how God wrapped His Son in skin and sent Him to people who deserved no such gift. The Message version of John’s account says it well.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

Almighty God put skin on His Word. Wrapped Him all up. So that mankind, you and I, could know real life. And live.

Question for you: Do you have a certain way of wrapping Christmas gifts?