of saints and vegetables…

(photo credit: the St. Nicholas Center)

she is three years old, this daughter-gift of ours.

old enough to start understanding what is going on around her, the bits and pieces of Christmas and Advent and all the hype and even the character set.

Jesus. Santa. Mary. Joseph. Frosty. wisemen and shepherds. elves. bell-ringers.

all mix together in a tapestry of fact and fiction, of reality and story.

sorting it is difficult. being a parent sorting it and shaping your child’s understanding of a most important day and season can be daunting. allow some childhood fantasy? or burst the bubble from the beginning, telling her there is no Santa Claus, knowing that her honest little heart will inadvertently burst another child’s fantasy?

the Christ-child is real, of that there is no question. bringing the season together, sifting the spiritual and commercial, was overwhelming.

until we stumbled on a simple tale told by vegetables. it is no unusual thing to find a Veggie Tales show or movie playing any given day in our home. but I was not expecting this particular tale to grab my attention and heart, shifting the focus of Christmas squarely back to Christ.

Nicholas was a Christian man of some means, orphaned early, and raised by his uncle. he shared his wealth and resources with others in Christ’s name, resting firmly in the knowledge that all he had came from, and subsequently was, God’s. along the way he became the Bishop of Myra, and eventually a saint and pop culture icon.

cuddling our daughter-gift through this story, Christ began a new, or refreshed an old, work in my heart. what if my own giving was influenced by an overflow of gratitude for what God has given? what if I gave because He had?

the shift was almost palpable. the frenetic schedule of the season slowed. the pressure released. what if?

the gift lists changed. the reasoning was different. additional gifts were added. others removed. where might encouragement lie? where might He be asking me to give, to give beyond my list on paper?

a handmade gift or two found its way under the tree, bits that would be treasured for memories evoked and new ones made.

the grace of Christ, His compassion and mercy, to me and each person I come into contact with, was overwhelming.

Nicholas gave because he could not ignore the source of his resource. He gave out of gratitude and love.

the grip of commercialism slipped a bit this year. and I am glad. praying it continues, really.

as for our daughter-gift, there is no longer a discussion of allowing a few years of childhood fantasy with Santa Claus. that also shifted as we watched the vegetable telling of this biography. her earliest teachings about Santa are steeped in reality. and they are taking hold in beautiful ways.

she asks for money to drop into red kettles. toy boxes are culled for bits others might enjoy. a goose figure for a friend with a farm set. a teapot for daddy because he has none of his own. an elf doll for me, its silly smile meant to bring cheer and make me laugh. simple gifts, given from her own bounty. because Jesus and mommy and daddy love her.

there are smiles and waves as she spies the mall Santa or a yard decoration. it makes sense in her world that Baby Jesus and Santa reside on the same lawn. and in a way, she is right. strip the commercial Santa away and Nicholas remains, a man who continually pointed others to the Christ-child and His ultimate Gift.

may we do the same.

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Filed under abiding, being, daughter-gift, gratitude, John 15, life lesson, simple, spiritual formation

listening to the soul…

it ended with molasses.

first came a week-and-a-half of stress on stress. work (both ministries, no less). family. a sick daughter-gift. more questions and paperwork on our house closing. one thing after another. it felt like each day added to the day before.

then came a day of running around, getting ready for Thanksgiving. the to-do list seemed reasonable at the start. a trip to the grocery store. make a salad for Thanksgiving dinner. pack for the mini-retreat/vacation we had planned for the weekend. make the pepparkakor cookie dough so we can make and decorate cookies on said retreat/vacation. a full day, but not unreasonable. but I could the soul-zapping pressures of the last weeks draining me further away from the spirit of Thanksgiving and into the vortex of commercialism and priorities of the world.

an email invitation came, reminding me of a community Thanksgiving service. shared desire to attend as a family, but the reality of two days gone awry.

progress was being made on the to-do list. cookie dough, laundry, and packing remained.

despite the careful grocery run earlier, the molasses was missed. the anticipated vacation highlight of Christmas cookie baking together could not happen without it.

back to the store. a moment alone in the car with my heart and soul. the clock ticking down to the Thanksgiving service. and much still to accomplish before days end.

as I exited one store with its Christmas craziness already in full swing, it hit me that an hour of sleep was less important than thanking God for His bounty. before entering the second store in search of the elusive molasses, I called home, saying my soul needed the service and could survive without the sacrificed sleep.

a terribly hurried run through the grocery store (and an exit with the molasses!), a quick dinner, and we were off.

we’ve not been to this church before. tradition washed over us before we even reached the building and continued for the next hour. the booming pipe organ. stained glass windows. a joyous choir. hymns of gratitude to the Father. familiar and not. healing to a weary and stressed soul. reminders of how deeply thankful every day can and should be.

the troubles and worries of the last few weeks melted as we soaked in the words of hymn and prayer. His goodness pervades our lives in so many seen and unseen ways. in the middle of tough decisions. among the myriad details each day brings. in quiet moments and loud clash of the season. woven throughout are His graces and provisions. painted across our days are His fingerprints, often the mark of which we cannot trace until later. the gentle and heart-wrenching lessons run together in the tapestry of our faith journey. and our souls are better for the time spent acknowledging His hand.

the forgotten molasses afforded me the quiet moment to hear the cry of my soul to rest and intentionally join with others in thanks. what seemed another stress became a beautiful evening together with our little family and the community. the cookie dough was accomplished. the bags and car were packed. the Thanksgiving holiday enjoyed.

and after all was said and done, the cookie dough was left behind!

(sugar cookies to the rescue! the pepparkakor will wait for us to get home…)

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strength and perseverance

it has been a windy season. most days our daughter-gift wakes up and asks if it is another windy day. or more likely, she makes a statement of it.

when we lived in southern California, it was news when the winds blew. sometimes Santa Ana winds, and other times from storms coming through the area. it always puzzled us how often downed trees made the news, downed by strong, but not devastating winds. I remember a co-worker once stating that her son had not slept all night because he was afraid of the wind.

in this land of four very distinct seasons the wind is not a headline-grabber by any stretch of the imagination. tornadoes, blizzards, thunderstorms, and severe weather in general, are part of life. we do talk about the weather here, and for good reason. it shapes us in ways we do not expect. a beautiful day, no matter the season, is cause to stop and enjoy, if only for a moment. a windy day, in our understated manner, will be called gusty. bitingly cold wind might be described as blustery. rarely do we consider our trees and worry about them toppling.

this difference between the stalwart northern trees and those of our California friends is striking. many of the trees making their way into the news were the same as the sturdy ones “back home.” so we researched. and talked to some who might understand our confusion. what we found was fascinating. and has implications on our spiritual lives.

for a tree, life in California is easy. lots of sun. a relatively temperate climate. few storms. it seems trees have little reason to work at sending their roots deep, so they spread wide. and trees topple in seemingly innocuous winds. the root system cannot tolerate much abuse and a strong gust will take a large tree down.

to survive the extreme seasons of the north, a tree must send its roots deep and wide. they must be strong. and they must persevere through the ever-changing weather. their wood is different, stronger, than an untested tree. a northern forest gives a wonderful picture of this strength and tenacity. the outer rim of a forest boasts the strongest trees, standing strong and mighty, facing the storms and protecting those in deeper. those inside, the protected ones, are not as strong. they will topple, much like those in California. their fortress of protection, when removed, leaves them vulnerable to the elements.

how like the trees we can be! how we often long for the easy California tree life! we pray God saves us from trial and testing, grateful for uneventful days, and breathing relief when tragedy is averted.

but in the trials, the windy, stormy times, He grows us. our roots in Him go deeper.

it is easy to feel abandoned to the storm. to wonder if He is punishing us or has forgotten our suffering.

maybe the better thought, the better question, is to ask which roots He is wanting to grow, where He might be strengthening our faith.

He does not send the storm to punish, but instead to protect. in those times we are not forgotten, as we might feel, but instead remembered, cared for, and nurtured.

even, and especially, in the storm.

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defining question…

there is a question that should be asked of everyone.

your answer to this one question, if honest, reveals more than almost any other.

I ask it frequently.

I wish someone had asked me more often.

how are you and Jesus?

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small graces…

lollypops

it was supposed to be a quick errand run, positioned on the edge of lunch and nap-time. our little daughter-gift is pretty laid back, even when the boundaries are pushed. so off we went. post office. bank. grocery store.

the lady at the bank did not offer a lollipop. the lady at the other bank always does, so this was confusing to my back seat passenger. she was easily placated with the promise of a lollipop or piece of gum at home, a cookie at the grocery store, or a cookie later in the evening when I baked. only one. the lolly won out. gum has been such a favorite lately, that I was certain it would be the sweet of choice.

it had to be a record for one of our shortest runs to the grocery store. less than twenty minutes. we emptied the cart contents onto the conveyor. and then it happened. the checker-lady asked her if she wanted a lolly (after a covert question to mom) and which color she would like. she chose green.

happiness knew no bounds for my girlie! all the way to the car, she told me over and over how the nice lady gave her a treat. it was such a yummy treat. and I was a kind mommy for letting her eat it before lunch.

there she sat, in the grocery cart, jabbering away, as I opened the car, dropped my purse and keys on the seat, hit the button to unlock the other doors, and closed the driver’s door. I always open her door before closing mine. always. for some reason, not today.

her door was locked. my door was locked. I’d hit the lock side of the button instead of unlock. my keys, phone, and wallet were locked in the car. we were stuck outside with our groceries, in the driving wind and drizzle. and my husband was out of town for a meeting until after lunch.

and that little green lolly? it became a grace gift, distracting her off and on for the next hour as we waited for the man to come and “break our door” so we could get in and go home. her little mouth was busy and happy, ignorant of the fact lunch should have been consumed. the sugar shot kept her going when she was tired. not enough to make her difficult, but just enough to keep her awake and interacting with me.

there are people who say God does not care about the small details of our lives. I disagree. the kindness of many at the grocery were important. the candy made a frustrating situation so much easier. and the best part? as we wheeled back into the store to find help, the little face in front of me looked up and said, “Mommy, we need help. we really need help, don’t we?” yes, sweetie, we need help. sometimes it is hard to admit we need help. today there were no other options. easily spoken words.

and before we could even ask Him for it, there was provision. more than we could accept. a ride home from the delivery driver. a booster seat loan. a hot lunch in the deli. kind and generous. a mirror of His grace.

it ended up being a short wait for the tow truck man. less than a minute to open the car. and we were on our way. from start to finish, less than an hour. but minutes filled with grace and care. before we could even ask.

God cares about the details.

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to everything there is a season…

the weather grows cooler.

children begin a new school year.

leaves change.

crops are harvested.

it has been a year since we moved to this rural city in the northern tier of states. a year of drinking in each season, with all its glory and challenge.

winter, cold and harsh, lasted long into spring. deep snows made shoveling the driveway nearly impossible as the banks rose higher than a shovelful could be thrown. the joy of snow angels and igloo-building, of sledding and snowmen made the short days full of wonder for the littlest in our home. pristine white snow. hoar frost on the trees. peaceful, unparalleled beauty balances the icy grip of winter.

spring came slowly, in fits and starts. late frost, even snow, nearly to May. a short season, and so important for the farmers around us. wet fields. planting delayed. crisp breezes, yet warmer than the winter blast. the lengthening daylight brings hope and coaxes the tree buds into full leaf. although I have witnessed spring many times and anticipate it after the darkness of winter, the seemingly overnight explosion of color and foliage always surprises and delights me. the earth is reborn. and with it, hope and fresh dreams.

summer is a season of delight, relished on a deeper level when winter is remembered. the first fruits are celebrated. strawberries. tomatoes. the first farmer’s market days. lakes thaw and offer new temptations and thrills. swimming. fishing. canoeing. dogs and children alike jump into our many sky-blue waters with abandon, a chaos all its own, wet and noisy.

much like spring, autumn suddenly appears on the air. the crisp temperatures return, this time bringing cold. the harvest is ripe, ready for the vast machinery that will help bring it in. and while the earth prepares for a season of rest and closing the calendar, it is also a season of beginning as schools reopen. for our little family, it reminds us of an anniversary, of packing and moving, of leaving one chapter behind and opening another. endings and beginnings. fitting for the season!

after living in a relatively static and temperate climate for nearly a decade, changes of season have become an observance of God’s wildly creative artistry. all senses seem engaged in new ways, drinking in the variety of smell and sight, reveling in the vast texture and symphony of creation. maybe the absence of large-city distraction has heightened this awareness. regardless, I am grateful for it. and I am grateful to Him for dreaming big, for creating with abandon and order, for taking care of the details within creation. His glory shines with each turn of the weather. and a new celebration of His provision, love, mercy, and grace commence.

what is your favorite season? how does God speak to you especially in it?

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doxology…

our church, like many across America, blends tradition and modern styles in various ways. perhaps one of the most notable is in the choice of Sunday’s worship music.

we sang the Doxology in church the other day. and it was beautiful!

there was a defined rise in volume throughout the room.

we do not have an organ, although it would have added to the emotive volume.

as much as I love the theology and praise of the Doxology, I believe it was the familiar tune and well-known words that brought such response. much the same happens when a hymn begins. something changes in the room.

it was not always this way. there was a day, not that long ago, these hymns were the only music we sang. and they felt a bit dusty, a little worn.

contemporary music changed that. and it seemed the hymn went away overnight, replaced by the worship chorus.

it has been an interesting journey to watch over the years, and now, as the pendulum swings again, there is hopefully some middle ground being discovered and explored.

having grown up with debates about music in church happening around me, I now find my thoughts and concerns are more about what the message of the songs than the melody. is the song about God? or me? does it proclaim truth? or offer a repetitive stanza about what “I” want from a relationship with Him? is there true worship in the song, an awe of God, or are we, as His creation, the centerpiece of the tune? is it edifying or full of hype? is the theology solid and biblical?

music can be powerful. or empty. it can encourage, convict, bless, confront, distract. it can be in the background or foreground of worship and life. bring us into worship or pull away from it. the hymns I once thought dusty are instead gems of life-lessons, of Christian formation, and often, of truths about God, His character, and love, mercy, and grace toward us. what once felt worn is, in fact, familiar and comforting.

how does music affect your worship? do you have favorite, go-to songs that draw you to the Father? do some songs simply distract you? or do you prefer silence and leave the music for a different time and place?

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