Thursday, December 23, 2010

away in a manger, part II

After my last post, I came across this on YouTube.  Kids DO love this story!!

The Christmas Story 

away in a manger

Something about the Christmas story is so relevant to children.  Maybe it is the idea that Jesus was once a baby, just like us.  Perhaps it is the story of a Mama and Papa who talk to angels and ride on donkeys.  Or even the gifts that are brought from afar (though it is still a bit fuzzy to me why myrrh and frankincense were such a great idea.) Annike loves the story, and she was sitting on my lap during church this past Sunday when the pastor said the word "manger". She gasped with delight and said "You know that!"

That is the brilliance of the story - simple enough for a child to understand, yet deep enough for scholars to pour over. 
I find myself thinking a lot about hope around Christmas time.  The story of a baby born in a manger on a cold evening when Mary found shelter in a stable and the angels sang high above, is a story of great anticipation.  The star of Bethlehem shone as a bright beacon in the sky and those who understood that this child would become their Savior were given Hope.  Hope that God had truly not forgotten them, hope in the chance of salvation, hope in a tiny bundle of swaddling cloths lying on a manger.  Jesus did not save the world on that Christmas day 2000 years ago; that was day that Hope was born. 

Such a humble beginning with such a glorious finish.  It gives me hope in the aspects of my life that seem insignificant.  It gives me hope in a God who understands the world so much better than I do.


Annike is hoarding the animals from her Fischer Price Nativity scene which someone was clever enough to think of.  She knows most of the words in the first 2 verses of "Away in a Manger", a childhood favorite of my own.  In her simple childlike way, she understands the hope that was born that day in Bethlehem.  As she grows, she will understand the significance of hope itself.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

buying power

As the mother of a toddler, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to do the majority of my Christmas shopping online. How did our mothers manage it dragging multiple kids to the department stores this time of year?? Come to think of it, I have many memories of playing hide and go seek with my siblings underneath the clothing racks, and even a few memories of strangers yelling at me because of it. Maybe my mom was more tolerant than I.

Whether buying in a store or online, this year I am challenged to consider the full cost of what I buy. The full cost. In this season of Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays we get excited about some super deals. But I have been reminded that when I buy an item that is super cheap, somewhere someone else is paying the extra cost. How can you make, deliver, and sell a shirt for 5 dollars? It doesn't really bother my conscience that much if an item is cheap because Corporate America is selling at a loss. But if the shirt is cheap because women or children somewhere are making $2 a day in conditions that I can't even dream of, then I am caused to stop a moment and consider what I support by buying that item.

We have a local organization called Trade as One. They are on a mission to rid the world of poverty one person at a time. Every item they sell is made by someone who would otherwise be making a living by prostitution, slavery, or something similar. Trade as One gives men and women a chance to break the enslaving bondage of poverty by providing them with a job. A job is even better than a donation because it creates a sustainable way of life.

Trade as One has the basic philosophy that every dollar we spend is like a vote that we cast for a product. If you don't like what a product stands for, then why would you vote for it? I like the idea that I can buy something (that I was going to buy anyway) and know that given the opportunity, I would legitimately vote for that product. My intention was to write this post earlier so that you might have a chance to check the shop out before Christmas. That didn't happen, but you can still take a peek!


We bought this hand-crocheted nativity scene from the Trade as One church display. It conveniently doubles as a child-friendly toy. Annike's favorites are the angel, and Baby Jesus of course. This time of year, nativity scenes are rich with representation, telling the birth story of Jesus who came to rid the world of its own sort of Spiritual poverty. He came to earth in humility in order to give us hope. He asked only that we would be a source of hope for others, giving to them as He has given so generously to us.


Spending money seems inevitable this time of year, and I am the first to admit that it is oh so much easier to grab a gift off the shelf than to think about where it came from. This Christmas season we don't have it all figured out, but I am approaching gift-buying with the idea that every vote counts. I have attempted to buy locally made, handmade, or fair trade items from smaller shops that do not make their profit by exploiting those who are already quite poor. It has not been possible with every gift, but even replacing one gift with an item that stands for something honorable makes a difference. Maybe we can change the world one present at a time.

Friday, December 10, 2010

our latest adventure...

Let me preface this post by saying that my husband's spirit of adventure was one of the reasons I married him. I love him for it, though it has gotten us into trouble more than once. Today might be one of those off days when I could have lived with a little less adventure and a little more normal.

After a sleepless night with our daughter, I awoke to find my husband missing from the bed. Waking up slowly, I stumbled out for some coffee and expected to see him in the kitchen reading, or watching t.v. The house was empty. Glancing out the kitchen window hoping to catch a glimpse of him, I had to rub my eyes and pinch myself. Might I still be asleep? Out the window, not 20 yards from our house, were hundreds, possibly one thousand, chickens. No exaggeration.

Amidst the hundreds of brown and white birds, pecking on the ground, climbing on the wood pile, running around under our cars, was my husband making a futile attempt to herd them away from the house. Stopping in the middle of a pack of chickens that seemed to have no fear of him, he looked up and saw me in the window, staring wide-eyed in my bathrobe. We were both thinking the exact same thing: "What did we get ourselves into??!" And in that moment as we stared at each other through the window, we both began to laugh. A deep belly-aching, side-splitting, tear-inducing hysterical laugh. It was the kind of laugh that comes out when you are not sure if you should laugh or cry, so you attempt to do both at the same time.






Life is an adventure. We have a choice to fight it, or laugh at it, however unexpected the situation.

The arrival of these chickens was not completely unannounced, though in my sleepy state I had completely erased any knowledge of the birds. We have been planning to rent our land out to some free-ranging organic chicken farmers who will also be moving into the cottage on the property. The chickens will be penned in different areas of the agricultural land. However, moving day this morning happened to be one of those mornings when things just did not go as planned. In the wee hours of the morning while it was just beginning to grow light, the chicken trailers arrived and got stuck in the mud. Somehow, the chickens began to escape out of cracks in the doors on the trailer. They came pouring out, one after another, and made a bee line for the greenery around our house. These animals are impossible to herd - it is hard to explain, but after trying it multiple times, I understood why the chickens were everywhere.

Oh, and the electricity was out all morning due to a motor vehicle accident. And we have ants all over our Christmas tree. Some days are full of the unexpected. We can try our hardest to stay within a plan, within certain boundaries of expectation, but when life takes over, sometimes we just have to laugh.

P.S. All of these pictures were taken after the majority of the problem was managed. Imagine 4 times the chickens when I first looked out the window. These are the straggler birds that were exceptionally evasive when it came to herding them back to their pen.

Monday, December 6, 2010

christmas tradition

Some Christmas traditions are easy, we fall into them naturally. Like driving up the mountain to cut down a Christmas tree, and saving time to amble and sip hot cider. If you celebrate Christmas, then getting a tree together is one of the first things you do.



This year our tree turned out to be a lot bigger than we thought. Outside it didn't look like it would fill up our living room quite like this!

Other traditions take a little more effort to create. Those are often the ones that are more important in the long run. In our first year of marriage, our couple's Bible study began the tradition of "adopting" a needy family for Christmas. It looks a little different every year, but essentially a group of us pitch in to get a local family in our community some needs and special gifts for Christmas.

The story that most stands out to me occurred in the second year of this tradition. A single mom with 3 children and a newborn on the way had lost her job because of her inability to sustain that job with a baby to care for. Subsequently, she lost the apartment she was renting, and they were living in a hotel. There is so much more to the story than I am able to divulge, but this woman was sincerely seeking out the best for her children. Christmas was the last thing on their minds, but my friends blessed them with some gifts and gift cards that Christmas, and we never heard back from them... until 2 years later.

I received a phone call from an unrecognized number. It was this very same woman that we had blessed TWO YEARS prior. I happened to be the contact person for our group, and this woman tracked me down because she wanted to say "Thank you" and to share her story with me. For 20 minutes I listened with tears in my eyes as this woman testified to me about the amazing, life-changing, forgiving, healing power of Jesus Christ in her life. She spelled the Gospel out to me and shared about her new life in Christ. Her family was in a stable setting, her children were well, and God was piecing her life back together bit by bit. I have rarely felt so humbled in my life.

Our Bible study's gifts to them are not the reason that this woman discovered new Life. Those gifts were one simple act of graciousness that provided a glimmer of light for her in the midst of darkness. One more reason to believe that God does exist. One source of hope pointing to The Hope.

As a result of her story, this tradition of adopting a needy family is one that I can't pass up. We just came back from Target with a cart full of clothing, necessities, food, and a few toys for a family that may not be getting much else this Christmas. I want my daughter to grow up knowing that when we give generously to others, ultimately we are the ones who are most blessed.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

jesus loves me

I came across Annike sitting on my bed flipping through my Bible, singing this:

video

Saturday, November 27, 2010

eurotour

This fall of 2010 marks the 5 year anniversary of our sabbatical trip to Europe, something we have dubbed our "Eurotour". Christian and I were childless, jobless, and dreaming (not a recommended combination for maintaining stability in your life.) We took 3 months to travel to various places in Europe, starting in Norway and ending up in Spain. It sounds so romantic. Parts of it really were, but other parts of it were awfully not romantic, like getting kicked out of the train station at 2am into the below 0 night and sleeping on a bench that looked as if it had been cleaned 20 years ago.


More than any other reason, we went as an escape from Christian's crazy difficult, all-consuming job. He quit, we flew to Europe. The intent was to rejuvenate, but there is something not-so-relaxing about staying in a different hotel every night, if you can classify the places we stayed as "hotels", that is. We would never trade in the experience, but we don't exactly plan to repeat it any time soon either. It was a character-building season for us as we sorted through the past frenzied year, and worried about our future in the life we left at home. In remembrance of that adventurous, dirty, growing, teachable, tragic, spectacular time in our lives, here are a few of the take-home lessons:

- If you want to take it with you, you have to be able to carry it.


- Eat as many pastries as possible.


- Mooch off of European family members while in the right countries.


- Thanksgiving is best celebrated with family, but if that is not an option, then celebrating in a pristine castle with American military families will work. I guarantee you have never been so cold at Thanksgiving on American soil.



- One can only absorb so many museums.


- Spain has the best coffee and chocolate pastries, and the dirtiest places to eat them. At 9am bars were filled with smoke and the floor was littered with trash. Apparently it is acceptable to throw your trash on the floor in a restaurant.



- Find the beauty in something old...


... and something relatively new.


- Whenever possible, take the path least traveled.


Despite the adventures we had while traveling, the greatest lesson learned was that it doesn't matter how many places you have visited in life, if you don't have anyone to share them with, life is empty. More than anything else, we missed our community of friends and family. It is impossible to replace the history we have with those who know and understand us. Traveling can be fun, but in the end, life is only about relationships.

Friday, November 26, 2010

thanksgiving


Is it generic to post on thankfulness around Thanksgiving? As I was pondering this question, the thought occurred to me that being thankful is never generic. We have far more negative thoughts, criticisms, complaints, and aggravations to incorporate into our conversation than we do items springing from a grateful heart.

So, in the spirit of actually being quite unique, creative, and counter-cultural, I am going to share just a few of the overwhelming number of things in my life that I have to be thankful for. Besides an adorable daughter and a handsome hubby, we have two wonderful families and got to celebrate Thanksgiving twice because of it! Talk about gluttony! We not only enjoyed good food, but good company too. I am thankful for the icy weather outside that reminds me Christmas is around the corner, and the hot fire in our potbelly stove that keeps our living room toasty. I am thankful for the last of the apples on our trees, and the apple pie sitting on the counter top. I am grateful for the dear friends we have who invest in our daughter, and are great examples for us in how they raise their own children. I am glad that we have a church home that has a heart for the town of Santa Cruz, and that we get to be a part of that outreach in our own way. And right now, I am especially thankful that God provides readily, regularly, and regardless of the condition of my heart.

Thanksgiving #1 at Christian's parents house...

(Annike and Opa were making funny faces at each other!)


Thanksgiving #2 at Ashley's parents house.






Let's let the habit of thanksgiving follow us through the holiday season. The actual day of Thanksgiving is just one needed reminder for the majority of us self-centered pessimists to put a little thought into being thankful.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

princess

It is a mystery to me how Annike first figured out what a princess is. She somehow took note of the fact that a lady wearing a glittering crown in a beautiful puffy dress is someone she wants to look like one day. It doesn't help that the Disney princesses are everywhere, or that everyone tells her she looks cute when she wears her "Cimbrella dress". Despite the influences of fairy tales, I am doing my darndest to teach her that a princess is more than a girl in a pretty dress.

One of the greatest crises the women of our current generation face is basing our self-image on our external beauty. Beauty is something we should strive for, but not the kind found in magazines. It is internal beauty that is lasting. We are born into the Royal Kingdom of Heaven when we are born again, making us daughters of the King, and therefore princesses with beauty that never fades.

This past weekend we were invited to our first "Princess Party", and as an attending mom I decided to dress the part (in my sister's prom dress... hope that was okay, Jilly!)



Even little princesses like to jump on the trampoline!

Here is the birthday girl and her mother, Rapunzel.


These little girls may not have it all figured out, but they take their cues from us. We are armed with the fashion statements of truth and righteousness, patience and hope. Perhaps if Paul had written a letter to the women of this age, it would have sounded like this:
Therefore put on the gown appropriate for wearing in the Kingdom of Heaven, so that when your identity as royalty is challenged, you may be able to stand confident, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Stand beautiful then, with the sash of truth tied around your waist, with the corset of righteousness in place,
and with your glass slippers perfectly fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
In addition to all this, take up the wand of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Take the tiara of salvation and the dagger of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Adaptation of Ephesians 6:13-18
Annike has been on a princess-dress kick, meaning that she never wants to take her dress off. After someone commented on how cute she looked in it, I turned to her and said, "You know that you are beautiful without that dress too, Honey. What makes you beautiful is when you are..." I paused, weighing my words so that she could understand them. But she filled in the blanks for me.
"Kind, Patient," she said.
Yep. She understands a lot more than I give her credit for.

Note: The God-breathed wording of the Ephesians verses according to the NIV translation is
"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,
and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints."
Ephesians 6:13-18

Saturday, November 13, 2010

finishing touches

Many of you have asked me for the latest pictures of our project, I mean, our house. I admit that lately I have been seeing a lot more of what we haven't done than what we have done - classic empty glass syndrome. But yesterday I unpacked the last of the boxes. Yes, that's right, there has been a box in my living room for the last 9 months that I have stealthily avoided opening because it contained our pictures. Pictures need hanging, and hanging them involves putting holes in the freshly painted walls, and putting holes in the walls feels very permanent. Yesterday, I finally felt ready to open that box.

Pictures are the finishing touches in a house that transform it from a generic structure into a place where we live. Not just any ole' family, but us. Gradually we have been adding memories to the house, making it a place that I view more and more like our permanent home. Adding those finishing touches yesterday was fun, and made me feel like our family belongs here more than ever.

Here is a glimpse of a few of the finishing touches we were working on this summer. Projects that may not be dire, but make the farm feel more like our place. Finishing touches like planting flowers in the rusty fountain out back.


We had the house painted country yellow... it seemed fitting.


Christian has been maintaining and upgrading the landscaping. He gets especially excited about rocks.


We added a porch to the cottage,


and replaced our front door.


Curtains are bringing life to some rooms,


we finally have enough furniture to fill our living room,
and yes, now there are pictures on the walls.


We still have plenty of work left to do on the house, and big projects continue to pop up unexpectedly (Surprise! We have to redo the Master Bathroom shower due to a big leak rotting out the floor!) But at the very least, maybe taking small steps of improvement is a pace we can keep up. Unlike the exhausting hours of work we put into the place a year ago, we are now tackling manageable projects one at a time. Those finishing touches are turning this house into a home.

I, too, am an unfinished work. It is a good thing that God does not just reveal to me everything that is wrong all at once, and then tell me to go fix it. He chips away at me, one issue at a time. Gradually, with a lot of patience on His part, some of those finishing touches begin to make me look more like Him. Maybe the majority of my structural stuff is finished, but oh boy does God have a few more unfinished projects to tackle! I am glad He sees those finishing touches as a worthwhile endeavor. I may never be a fully completed work, but I am in the process of becoming a woman more like the one He intended me to be each and every day.

Friday, November 5, 2010

embrace change

There are times when I am simply tired of the old routines, the old conversations, the old dreams, the old me. I want something new!... and I don't mean new "stuff". In the spirit of embracing change in my life, I am updating this blog layout! It might be considered more of a neutral kind of change in my life, but still, it is representative of me hoping to never get stuck in my old ways, but instead to embrace change.

Perhaps God put this desire for change in our hearts for a purpose. We were created with a vague understanding about when our lives begin to feel stale because without it, we would never feel motivated to move forward in life. Who would want to bother with the energy it takes to cast off the old things? Who would search out change? And we all know that there are things in our lives that God would like to be different.

Some of us fear change more than others, getting attached to familiarity. But God designed the entire world that we live in as a morphing, dynamic place where there is newness around every corner. Each day is a new beginning, each season a chance to experience something different, each new conversation a chance to be more Christlike than we were in the past one. We never have to be stuck in unhealthy patterns because God truly put the ability for new life in each one of us. Embrace change - it is a gift from above!

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" 2 Corinthians 5:17

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

costumes

If you are not the mother of a Sesame-Street-watching toddler, you may be unfamiliar with Abby Cadabby, but that is who Annike played the part of this Halloween.

Abby is one of Elmo's newer friends who was probably added to create a stronger female monster presence for the preschoolers to look up to (did you ever notice they were all male when we were growing up?) She is actually a pink and purple fairy who does magic, and I am still trying to figure out what educational value she adds to Sesame Street. None-the-less, Annike is quite a fan, and her costume was relatively easy to put together.

While Annike is very attached to her tutus, for some reason she was resistant to putting on her Abby Cadabby costume until the very last minute, when I resorted to bribery (something I DO try to avoid with her.) This may tell you how girly she is, but the bribe was that if she put her costume on, then I would put make-up on her. She held so still for the mascara, and the lip stick, and the eye shadow, and the glitter. And when we were all done, she looked in the mirror and declared "I'm BEAOOOTIFUL!"

This is a word I have never heard her use before, and it came out with such oomf! "BEAUUUUTIFUL!" Of course it made me laugh and agree with her. But afterwards I contemplated where she picked up the idea that we are only beautiful when we put make up on. She sees me do it every day, but I make a big effort to tell her that it helps me look "awake" instead of using the word "pretty". I mean, there is no way I would go out without mascara on because no one would recognize me... but there I go again, unintentionally sending the message that it is the external applications that make us beautiful.

It is going to be a battle over the next 20 years fighting the impression our culture's image of beauty as seen in magazines, television, and even the Disney princesses will make on Annike. But the truth is that the messages she gets begin and end with me, at least for a little while they do. I have potential to be the best example of the difference between internal beauty and external beauty that she has. That means I have to wrap my own head around the way that God created ME to be beautiful first. Not with name brand jeans and just the right shade of lipstick. My true beauty stems from understanding all of the ways that God created me unique, and using those uniquities to glorify Him. I have to somehow show her that we are most beautiful when we are displaying fruit in our lives, showing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control to those around us. Yep, I have a lot of work to do! Maybe with Annike's help, we can embrace God's form of beauty in our lives together!

"What matters is not your outer appearance — the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes — but your inner disposition. Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way..." 1 Peter 3:3-4 (The Message)


We had a kid's Halloween party to attend, and we gave trick-or-treating a go for the first time. We only visited about 8 different homes, but from the look of the picture below, clearly that was plenty.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

pumpkin time!


When I asked Annike if she wanted to visit the place where they grow pumpkins so we could buy one and take it home to put a face on it, she looked at me like I was crazy. Who can blame her?

Why do we carve pumpkins, anyway? Upon research, it seems we have graduated to pumpkins, from the former tradition of carving turnips and potatoes. This is fortunate for those of us who are challenged by our fine motor skills. I am also not sure how they ever fit a candle into a turnip... In any case, from everything I have read it seems there is no single, clear origin to Halloween. Here in America, like most things American, we merged all different types of celebrations... from pagan to religious, Catholic to Protestant, Irish to Roman, from New Year (yes, it was formerly the Celtic New Year celebration) to Harvest, from warding off ghosts to welcoming saints. In the end, the traditional celebration we are left with is somewhat confusing to me - tell me again, what are we actually celebrating?

Apparently, in the late 1800s there was a move in America to change Halloween into a holiday centered more around the community and neighborly get-togethers, than about ghosts, pranks, and witchcraft (www.history.com). Someone forgot to tell downtown Santa Cruz.
Trick-or-treating was revived in the 30s or 40s as an inexpensive way for the entire community to celebrate. While I do not delude myself into thinking that everyone treats Halloween as a community bonding experience, our family truly does join in simply for the joy of togetherness. It is one more opportunity to bond as a family over pumpkin carvings, and to create memories with friends while laughing at ourselves in costume. And what better way is there to meet your neighbors than knocking on their door in a funny outfit? Of course, they may not ever recognize you without that silly hat... but I like the idea that in some cases we can celebrate togetherness itself.

If you are interested in my more serious opinion of Halloween, you can see Halloween from last year.

In the spirit of togetherness, we set out to pick our pumpkin in between rain showers. The mud is all part of the fun! The camera can't quite capture the squeals of delight released as Annike stomped around, saying over and over, "So many pumpkins!"




I'll take this one... it's just my size.


Time to say good-bye to the pumpkin patch and take mini-"Cimbrella" (as Annike has dubbed her) away in her pumpkin-turned coach.


Back home to carve them up. Even Papa got into it and designed a very special kitty pumpkin for Annike.

She likes it!


Coming up next: Annike's costume! That is, if I can get her to wear it...
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