Saturday, December 24, 2011

Have Yourself a Merry Little Ticket

Nothing says "Merry Christmas" like a citation from a friendly policemen from Podunktown. An aged Barney Fife really got us in the holiday spirit as we headed over the river and through the speed trap to Grandmother's house. But, as usual, God had a nifty little lesson/reminder for me to learn if I would choose to pay attention, which I did. And now you can benefit from said lesson without having to pay a speeding ticket, unless you would like to contribute, in which case we do accept checks.

As we unknowingly sped through a little town, we were unpleasantly surprised to have our David Platt sermon broadcast interrupted by the blue light special behind us. Thankfully the kids were so engrossed in their movies that they didn't ask too many questions, but neither did Mr. Policeman. He did not care that we were a sweet little couple listening to a sermon while driving our four little angels to their grandparents' house for Christmas. Nor did he care that we are a one income family whose one income is less than we'd like it to be or that my very kind husband has started his own nonprofit organization to help people in third world countries. He didn't even care that it was Christmas eve eve eve. All he seemed to be concerned with was the fact that we'd broken the law.

Our first reaction was what most people's would be...internally, at least. Thankfully we kept our mouths shut in front of Mr. Fife. But to ourselves, it went something like, "Jerk. Couldn't you find someone a little more deserving of your time and punishment? We didn't even know what the speed limit was because we were so engrossed in the very admirable act of listening to someone bring God's Word. We're good, law-abiding people who never cause trouble. You're obviously a BLEEPITY-BLEEPITY- BLEEP." (Okay, I didn't actually think cuss words, but they weren't exactly nice words either.)

Right in the middle of all this holly jolly holiday cheer, the Holy Spirit showed me the truth behind this whole unpleasant episode.

Isn't that many of us spiritually? We're speeding along doing lots of good -even admirable - things when we break the law. Not the city of Podunkville's law, but God's law. And while we may not have necessarily set out to break the law, we did it just the same. Why? Because that's who we are. Careless sinners who are more concerned with what we're doing than with what God has made clear to us about what we should or shouldn't do. We think that because we're not as bad as the bank robber down the street that we shouldn't be punished.

The fact of the matter is, the speed limit was posted and we knew it existed because there's always a speed limit. We just chose to ignore it. And whether there was a murder being committed a block away or not, that doesn't change the fact that we were lawbreakers.

Though that police officer was completely justified in stopping us and giving us a ticket, we still thought he was an ignorant, arrogant jerk. But why? The truth is, he never acted like a jerk and even apologized for having to give us the citation. But our proud human nature wanted to be mad at him and blame him for what had happened to us. That poor man, whose sense of style is obviously a little challenged, was just doing his job. He wasn't Ebenezer Scrooge. He was the enforcer of justice. And don't we all want justice? We don't want people speeding through our towns and neighborhoods, potentially plowing our children down in the streets. But we just hate to get caught doing it ourselves. It's all good and fine when someone else gets punished, but somehow we think we should have gotten a break.

The fact is, it's not God's fault when someone gets sent to hell, or even suffers the earthly consequences for sin. He's posted the warnings, the guidelines, and the laws. We've chosen to ignore them and do our own thing. So, that leaves the God of justice with one option. Let justice be served.

All of this - my recognition of my guilt - thankfully leads me not to a place of resentment and questioning the character of the Righteous Judge, as it does so many. It leads me to a place of immense gratitude. I'm thankful for a manger, thankful for a cross, thankful for an empty tomb, and thankful for a seat occupied at the right hand of God. I'm thankful for grace, mercy, and love. My ticket has been paid. My driving record is clean. I'm innocent not because of my perfection but because of His great love which motivated Him to send His Son in the flesh, Immanuel, to pay the price. Thanks be to God for His great gift.

And now that the lesson has been learned, does anyone want to be Jesus and pay this fine? Just wondering.

We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. I Corinthians 5:20b-21

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sam's Top Ten Christmas Pastimes

In case your family Christmas gathering is getting boring and you're looking for some good ideas of what you could do for fun, Sam wanted me to give you some suggestions.

1. As soon as you arrive, find an abandoned yet very full glass of tea, scoop the tea out of the glass, and smear it all over the table. He's heard that tea baths are great for restoring stained wood.

2. Since your shirt is likely to be covered in tea, go ahead and get your first wardrobe change over with. That way none of your very stylish outfits will go unseen or unappreciated.

3. Taste all of your brother's new building blocks. That way you'll protect him from possible poisoning and possibly discover a tasty snack at the same time.

4. See how many glass Christmas ornaments you can touch before someone says something to you.

5. See how quickly you can climb on any and all available elevated surfaces before you fall and bust your head.

6. See how many times you can pet (or lightly hit) all puppies at the gathering before one of them bites you.

7. Remove all vent covers to see what treasures you might find.

8. Pretend you're a bird and the toilet is a birdbath.

9. Run around naked while someone does your laundry since you likely underestimated the number of wardrobes changes that would be required on this trip.

10. Go bowling with your family, but forget about throwing a heavy ball and instead see how many people you can get to chase you before they pass out.

Hope you're having a very non-boring Christmas so far!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Christmas List

This time of year, wish lists tend to get very long. Or maybe they're just very expensive. As a kid, I would overflow with anticipation as the JCPenney Wish Book arrived in the mail. Not that my parents ever actually bought my gifts from there, but the arrival of the catalogue signaled the arrival of Christmas. What kid doesn't love poring over toy ads, dreaming of all the fabulous things that could soon be his? Everything looks so shiny, new, and exciting as opposed to the broken toys with run-down batteries and lost pieces in their closet.

Even now, as Christmas looms right around the corner, close enough to touch, I find myself at times making my mental wish list. There are no letters to Santa these days, but the wants are there just the same. A few new clothes, a new computer, a new camera complete with photography lessons, a vacation, maybe even an ipad, which would be the ultimate indulgence for me. We could all come up with long, pricey lists if we had to.

But these things don't hold the same luster as they once did. I find myself wanting more. Call me greedy.

This morning, I heard the dreaded crash followed by a moan of someone who knew something bad had just happened. I had to ask the question. "What was that?" A moment of silence and then, "You don't want to know." When I entered the dining room, I saw exactly why the person involved didn't want to tell me.

Something completely irreplaceable had been broken beyond repair. A precious memory in the form of ceramics. A moment in time that can never be recaptured. A treasure involving my most treasured possessions, my children.

Part of me wanted to get upset. Really upset. But quickly the truth flooded my heart and mind.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." (and gravity shatters.)

While it is a precious earthly treasure to me, my treasures are slowly but surely being stored in heaven instead of here on this broken, temporary earth. I was hit by the reality that all, all my earthly possessions will one day look like this shattered plate...or worse. It will all be burnt up. Gone. Forever.

It is truly understanding and believing this truth that makes accepting the fact that the plate with my sweet children's footprints is broken and that I will most likely not get any of the things on my wish list pretty easy. Why would I pine after things that will be gone in an instant?

So I find myself making a new Christmas wish list. I find my heart longing for the things that matter. I would forego multitudes of earthly treasures for a good dose of true humility, because it is upon that foundation that the things of eternity are built. Understanding that I am nothing and He is everything. I desire a heart of compassion and gentleness. I desperately want my life to be characterized by love for Jesus and love for others. I want holiness. Unquenchable joy. Faithfulness to my God.

The beautiful, glorious truth is that all these things can be mine. My wish list can be fulfilled all because of the wish God granted in a manger. Mankind had longed for and looked for a Savior and God, in His mercy, gave us just that. And so much more.

What do you wish for...long for this Christmas? Ask the Giver of all good things.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. James 1:17-18

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lucky Thirteen

Wuv. Twu wuv. I can’t think of marriage without thinking of that priest at the end of The Princess Bride. So funny.

Chris and I have been married for thirteen years yesterday. I remember the weeks leading up to our wedding when I would try to imagine what it would be like to wake up next to each other everyday, introduce him as my husband, and share a bank account. I never imagined four kids in that equation or Chris being a school teacher or the massive amounts of laundry I’d be doing. All in all, though, it’s been a wonderful and blessed thirteen.

I wish I’d known back then, as I dreamed of all the googly eyes we’d make at each other everyday or the way we’d love our precious children who would never cry or whine or puke on us, so many of the things I do now. And, thirteen years from now, I hope I’ll be putting some of this knowledge I’ve attained into practice. Chris does, too. Ha!

I wish I’d known that marriage is about so much more than two people who have butterflies in their stomach when they’re together, or apart. It’s about so much more than getting to see each other first thing in the morning and last thing at night. It’s about more than making lots of babies together and buying your first home and eating dinner together every night. It’s about more than finding your happiness in another person and fighting and pouting when that other person fails to make you happy. It’s about more than standing your ground or compromising or losing or winning or hating or loving. It’s about more than picking up someone’s dirty clothes for years or overlooking the fact that they never clean out the dryer lint thingy (that would be me) or taking vacations together.

Like everything else in life, whether we acknowledge it or not, it’s about Jesus Christ. God modeled marriage after Jesus and his church, not the other way around. Marriage was created to be a daily, fleshed-out example of the Gospel. Jesus (the groom) is in charge, but He leads lovingly, sacrificially. The church is the beloved bride. Having been served by the One who loves her, she serves and submits willingly, happily, trusting that her beloved knows best. And over it all…forgiveness. grace. love. humility.

We are wronged, we forgive. We don’t get our way, we submit. We live our lives to please the other, and in that death to ourselves, we find life. Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not boast. It is not proud. It does not keep a record of wrongs. It is not selfish. It is all about Jesus. And if it is all about Jesus, it becomes all about our spouse.

One of the greatest gifts I’ve been given in this life is a husband who seeks to lead like Christ. He falls short a lot, but I fall short more. But even when he falls, I know his heart is on the Lord, and that should be enough for me to gladly submit, trust, encourage, and help. The trick is, though, that my part in this whole thing doesn’t depend on his and vice versa. My part depends on Jesus and it is only through Him that I can be the wife I should be and want to be.

I’m so thankful for a husband who is patient with me, SOOO patient with me, as I seek to live a Christ-like life. And I’m so thankful for Jesus, who has blessed us with the privilege of a built-in witness through our marriage. Every moment we are blessed to spend together as husband and wife is a moment we can be Jesus to this world. So what God has joined together, let no man or woman separate. This is about so much more than us.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Little Detour on the Way to Church

I love reading, studying, and meditating on God's Word. The more you read it, the more you want to and the more you realize you need to. It's so amazing to read the stories of so many saints and villians, cheering for their victory or their demise, and learning lessons regarding your own life along the way. In most Bible stories, there is the recurring theme of faith...people trusting and obeying God even when things do not seem to be going well. And then it all turns out awesome in the end, or at least in eternity, and we get to glean all the wonderful golden nuggets that these people had to flesh out. God's hand in all of it seems so obvious to us, the casual hindsight observers.

Don't you wish we could see our own lives with that perspective?

I'm sold into slavery by my brothers, get wrongly accused of rape, spend years in prison - no worries. I'm sure God's just waiting to put me in charge of the country and reconcile my family.

I have to put my baby in a basket and send him floating down the river to escape murder? No big deal. God's probably going to use him to deliver His chosen people from the evil king and give him a big shout-out in the Book He'll write someday.

God wants me to convince my fiance that I'm really a pregnant virgin then travel 100 miles by foot while I'm in labor only to give birth next to a stinky cow? I'm game. He's probably going to work all that to show the world true humility and bring about the salvation of mankind.

I'm going to leave my livelihood and family to follow around this really different homeless guy who claims to be God's Son only to watch him be arrested and killed by crucifixion? Count me in!

We can see God weaving these situations into the tapestry of His plan, even when there's sin involved, but when it comes to God working in our own lives in ways that are contrary to all our common sense, we're a little more leary. We like to see the road map before we start the trip, just so we can make sure the destination is within our reach. We'd like to know about any detours so we can factor them into our plans, and a heads-up about any traffic jams would be helpful, too.

This morning, we got up to get ready to take our family to church, because that's what good Christian people do, right? But, lacking self-discipline, we didn't get up as early as we should have. In the midst of rushing, looking out for ourselves, and making sure we looked good on the outside, we got pretty ugly on the inside. When my hair-fixing stretched on and two little boys' race to the car ended in a banged-up eye, it became apparent we weren't going to be even close to on-time.

In the end, though, I think God had another plan for our morning all along. What this family needed was a good dose of God's Word, repentance, and refocus. We needed time singing children's songs from a cheesy cd, remembering the words from His Word that we've been memoring and realizing they're more than just words to know. They're words to do. We needed to slow down, apologize, and share hugs and smiles. We needed to prepare our hearts to live for our King rather than prepare our bodies to rush out the door in a huff to worship on the outside, but not in our hearts.

While I'm not saying it's okay to stay home from gathering with other believers every week, eat scrambled eggs together, say, "Jesus loves you," and call it church, I am saying that sometimes I need to slow down long enough to see what God's really trying to do. Life's little detours and traffic jams are often the whole point of our journey. Rather than getting frustrated with them, we can choose the see small glimpses of God's glory in them and give thanks that He saw fit to show it to us.

If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body [or got to church on time every week], I could boast about it, but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
I Corinthians 13:3 (with a little personal application by Amy)

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Our cheesy Advent poem from tonight:

We were minding our business one dark, lonely night
When suddenly from heaven we saw a great light.

We heard some loud singing and a voice said, “Don’t fear!
The One you’ve been waiting for is finally here!”

We couldn’t believe what we saw in the sky
Or that God would pick us, such regular guys.

Once we came to our senses and were finally able,
We made our way to that small, local stable
Where the heavenly chorus had said we would find
a sweet baby Savior, so loving and kind.

Who am I talking about?
Read God’s Word and find out.

Luke 2:8-20; I Corinthians 1:26-29

One of the most wonderful aspects of the Christmas story to me is the ordinary nature of the places and people God chose to use. I want to write something amazing about it that will make you ponder and see the story in a fresh, new light, but I'm just feeling ordinary tonight.

That's the beauty of it, though. It's not about who we are or what we can say or how we can make others think or feel. It's about Him using plain old, unremarkable, run-of-the-mill people to turn heads and hearts...toward Him.

A young Jewish girl, living in an ordinary village, getting ready to embark on the life all young Jewish girls live. “But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.""

A young Jewish man just hoping to make a living, love his wife and raise some strapping boys, but whose hopes had just been dashed. "But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.""

A ragtag bunch of shepherds sitting under the stars, trying to find conversation or thoughts to fill the time until their shift was up and they could head home for some shuteye. "An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.""

Just another stable, one among thousands in that part of the world, home to plain old stinky animals used for work or food. "While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them."

Ordinary. Or so it seemed. Ordinary. Until He intervened. And made it all into something too extraordinary for words.

Doesn't that excite you somewhere down deep inside? Does it make your heart flutter for just a a moment as you think, wonder, ask, "Would He ever choose me?" Because some part of each of us knows that we're meant for something more than ordinary. There is a desire, buried though it may be, to be used by our Master, our Creator for that very purpose for which He made us. We seek that rush, that high, that euphoria in all kinds of earthly things. But, even when we find it for a moment, or maybe two, it leaves us all too soon. Fleeting. Momentary.

We were made for more. Though we are ordinary, or because we are ordinary, we know there is more. There is a purpose that in His providence He has planned. But maybe to our eyes it looks so ordinary that we've missed it. Don't's when and how and who you least expect it to be...He works. He moves. He makes the ordinary eternal. Prepare your heart. You could be next...don't you want to be?

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:27-31

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Merry Christmas

My friends, it's your lucky day. You are going to benefit greatly from the fact that I am not willing to spend the time or money it takes to do Christmas cards via snail mail. If I were to do that, you would only see one, two, or perhaps even three photos of my darling children. Since I am doing a blog card, you are going to get to see so many pics of them and their sweet faces that you'll swear you just ate a big pan of fudge.

This photo session was amazingly successful. It did not end in screaming or with grudges being held and there was more than one usable picture when it was all said and done. Unfortunately, there is a somewhat black cloud over my memory of the whole event because it was just moments later that the puking began. (I realize I have reached my monthly quota of using the word "puke" or some form of it and will promise to do my best to stop speaking of the horrible events of the past week. I pray that God is on my side in this and there will be no more need to us it for a very long time.)

Below, you have the "Wow! I can't believe what you got me for Christmas!" pose.

Next we have a shot that would have been a great candidate for the one and only photo to use if I had chosen to do that old-fashioned kind of card where we actually print them and mail them. That would be so 20th century. Did I mention I can text now?

Now we have a couple of examples of what most of the shots I took look like. A fraction of the children look great, while one or more of them succeeds in making the picture unusable...but awfully cute.

And now for some of my favorites. I could just eat up that Sam with a spoon.

This is the one where they pretend like they like each other after we bribe them with something such as candy.

Finally, we have the ones where Luke just can't take anymore. "Mama, don't you think 345 shots are enough??

Naturally, I chose the third one up as the one for our Christmas calendars because who needs a perfect photo when you can have one with such personality? I love these kids.

From our wild and crazy home to yours...

Merry Christmas!!

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2

Not On Bread Alone

Oh, dear. My life has sunk to a new level of pathetic-ness. Either that, or I am a well-loved girl. Maybe it's both.

So, an unnamed friend, who is bookoodles more popular than me, in an effort to be a sweet friend who encourages others to encourage me (and lifts my spirits when I feel friendless), put people up to leaving me blog comments. I saw through the whole scheme in about 1.8 seconds since my previous record for comments is probably four.

When I told Chris about the whole thing, he immediately replied, in his most encouraging tone, "That's pathetic. And embarrassing." Thank you, kind sir. Now I feel fabulous. He quickly followed with a much too late, "I'm just kidding." Yeah, sure you are. And I love to puke.

But, in my ever-positive way, I will choose to put aside the humiliation in favor of celebrating the fact that I can name at least five people who love me. I didn't feel like it a couple of days ago, but it's true. Actually, I could name 30 people who love me. (I thought of putting 40, but that could be a stretch.) Shoot, when five people live with you and you feed them daily(and they haven't become teenagers yet), you've got a good head start. Really, the list goes on and on, not because I'm so lovable. Far from it! (Can I get an amen? Chris, hush.) But because the Lord has blessed me and surrounded me with loving people who find it in their hearts to love the unlovable.

Isn't that the way the enemy works, though? He just whispers that one small lie, that is so easy to see through, but sometimes it sticks. ("Nobody cares. They've forgotten you.") It sits there in the back of your mind, waiting for that weak moment. Waiting for the moment when the emotions are a little rocky or the circumstances less than ideal. Waiting for that opportune moment to take root and then to sprout. We turn our attention toward it for a second, and it grows. Our thoughts begin to settle there, leaves begin to sprout, and the enemy begins to smile. A lie. It always starts with a lie.

Our weapon. Our weed-puller. Our one and only sword to fight with. The Truth. The Word of God. It is indispensible, infallible, and everlasting. It is the gift God has given us to combat the lies, the attacks of the enemy. We must know it backwards and forwards. Inside and out. We must drink it in and fill our hearts with it. We must train ourselves in the Truth for it is the only real way to recognize the lie.

There is nothing more important we could put into our hearts and minds, yet we fill our heads with images from television and books. We fill our hearts with selfish indulgence that feels good for just a moment. We reach for the quick. The entertaining. The easy to digest. We need the meat, the bread, the Living, Active Word! We let this treasure sit idly on our end tables while we fill our lives with garbage. We take it for granted and treat it lightly.

Almighty God has written us a love letter and we ignore it. We need it more than we need bread and water. Seek it. Consume it. Use fight. Fight the enemy. Fight the lies. Stand on the truth that Almighty God loves you with an everlasting love, is Sovereign, is Holy, has released you from the power of sin and death, and is working every last detail of your life for your good and His glory.

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” Matthew 4

Monday, December 12, 2011

Just Call Me "Sunshine"

So, I took the weekendoff from blogging because 1)there is such a thing as too much of a good thing and 2)I was so busy gathering new inspiration for today's post. Here's what I came up with:

1. I don't care for puke, whether it's mine or someone else's.

2. I do care for sleep. Sadly, the puke was abundant and the sleep - not so much.

3. It doesn't take long to plunge off of a spiritual mountain top. It's amazing how quickly I can go from tight with God to grumpy and nothing anyone can do about it.

4. I am basically a sixth grader. I don't like hearing about parties I'm not invited to when it seems everyone else is there. Boo hoo.

5. Thanks to all the puking, my shindig I was supposed to host tomorrow night has been relocated. Instead of being completely disappointed, I will be thankful that I don't have to get my house cleaned from top to bottom today.

6. This sounds like a post a third grader would write. I'm demoting myself from sixth grade to third. No offense to all you third graders out there.

7. This too shall pass. Hallelujah!!

8. Jesus loves me anyway. Again, Hallelujah!

I hope your weekend has been vomit-free and that your house is full of Christmas joy. We are planning on returning to that state soon and hopefully I will be back and pretending to think like a 30-something-year-old again.

A belated #9. The basketball games were very entertaining. I'm happy to report that Jack dribbled the ball from one side of the court to the other...twice. And I'm pretty sure he deserves an assist for the ONE goal his team scored in that game. Hopefully I will make it to Academy to buy Maddie some shorts that actually fit so that I can concentrate on her game this week instead of how inappropriately short her shorts are. By the way, she got a foul! If you know Maddie, that's amazing. She also ate the floor three times because she was being so aggressive. Now if we can only teach her how to shoot.

Really. I'm done now. Bye.

Wait. One more thing. Here's a good Scripture passage that I needed today. I'll share it in case any of you need it too.

56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. I Corinthians 15

Friday, December 9, 2011

I'm sorry, but my brilliance is not for sale.

This is going to be quick. There is a game of Qwirkle calling my name. It's our new obsession. Chris is obsessed with trying to beat me and I'm obsessed with trying to stay undefeated. The excitement never ends in this house.

Good news: Chris has enough pairs of cleaned, ironed pants to make it through another week, and then he won't need any for 2 1/2 weeks! Cons to being a teacher - making peanuts and, now, not being able to receive anything but peanuts as a gift from a student (thank you, oh great, wise, and honest legislators). Pros to being a teacher - getting a check direct deposited into your bank account after two weeks of hanging out with your family.

Two new Advent things (because you people are clearly hanging on my every Advent word):

1. We pray for the people we receive Christmas cards from each day. This is getting easier because people seem to be moving away from the whole spending lots of money to have the postman deliver a picture of your family to people who live a mile away and see you every other day. If you want the effective prayers of the Bond family, you better get that card in the mail.

2. I got this whole idea (with the help of some awesome friends) to have our Elves on the Shelves show up with Jesus-themed messages and Bible verses in their hands. Evidently someone makes just such an elf with the cards for the 25 days leading up to Christmas. However, we don't have those, so this admittedly uncreative mom is having to do some creative thinking. It pains me. It really does. (But it beats pretending the elves are real and allowing them to destroy your house every night just so you can clean up after two more people. Have you parents lost your minds?)

So far, these are the two little rhymes I came up with:

Day 1:

Lots of kids have their very own elf,
And many times they find them sitting on a shelf.
But I’m a somewhat different kind.
I’m the kind of elf who likes to remind.

Lots of elves like to play and make messes,
But I like to talk of those whom God blesses.
Playing and silliness are wonderful things,
But so is celebrating the birth of a King.

Today I am thinking of special type of creature,
One who is usually part of the main feature.
They are special helpers from above,
Many times carrying messages of love.

They spend their spare time singing God’s praises,
And they utter some very particular phrases.
Glory to God, they sing from on high.
Down upon people they often will spy.

Who am I talking about?
Read God’s Word and find out!

Luke 1:11-20, 26-38
Matthew 1:18-24
Luke 2:8-14
1 Peter 1:10-12
Psalm 103:20

How do the angels serve God? What is their part in His plan?

Day 2:

Today I have exciting news
About the mom of the King of the Jews.

She wasn’t too important, or so it seemed
But a great privilege on her God deemed.

God decided to use this poor, young girl
To bring hope to everyone in the world.

Those pretty, rich, or smart the world always seeks,
But God smiles on those with hearts humble and meek.

Who am I talking about?
Read God’s Word and find out!

Luke 1:26-56

How did Mary respond when God called her to something very special?

I can't believe how vulnerable I am with you gals. I am now publishing my poetry, that could have been written by a kindergartner, for the world (or .000000000000000000001% of the world) to see. Evidently I have no dignity left. I think that happens after you give birth four times. Approximately 437 people have seen everything about you there is to see, so what's a little bad poetry?

Now I shall go beat my husband at Qwirkle to prove that I do still have the tiniest bit of brain power left.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Martha Stewart Ain't Got Nothin' On Me

Twice a year, I attempt to meet my quota of Suzy Homemakerishness. Yesterday, I closed out the year on my cutesy projects with a little baking fun. Just in case I've given you the impression that I cannot do anything that is even remotely impressive, I give you evidence to refute that. Prepare to be impressed.

Step 1: Go buy something Christmasy that will make your project look cute no matter what. Hello, Michael's.

Step 2: Line them up and take a picture of them. It will look impressive on your blog.
Step 3: Get all your ingredients, stack them up in an appealing manner and take another picture. It seems that's what people do when they're preparing a recipe on a blog or showing off what they've gotten for $.05 on their recent couponing excursion to Publix.

Step 4: Carefully follow a recipe, double and triple checking the ingredients and their measurements, because you know how likely it is that you're going to screw this up.

Step 5: Realize you are ill-prepared and do not have an adequate number of eggs. Wait for your husband to bring more because there's no way you're dragging two little kids out on a cold, rainy day for a few measly eggs. Ask him to pick up a rotisserie chicken, too, because there's no way you're going to want to cook dinner after baking all day.

Step 6: Pour your carefully prepared batter into your cute dishes and bake for 20 minutes. Then bake for another 5 minutes, then 3 more, then 4 more.

Step 7: Start praying that the middles will get done before the outside burns, because you just can't bear the thought of all that time and all those ingredients going to waste, not to mention the fact that you can't impress your friends if you give them half-baked pumpkin bread. Reduce the temp and cook a few minutes more.

Step 8: Thank the Lord that in His great mercy, He cooked them just right.

Step 9: Totally forget to take a picture of the fresh out of the oven pumpkin bread because you're in the middle of cooking three other things while holding a one-year-old and telling a three-year-old, "Just a minute," for the 597th time.

Step 10: Rope your daughter into helping you with a "fun" project. When she gets tired of it after completing three out of fourteen packages, rope your husband into helping you finish. It's okay. It happens everytime. He's come to expect it.

Step 11: Give your cute baked goodies away so you won't eat them all and so everybody will be super-impressed with all the amazing things you do. Don't tell them you only do it twice a year and that your husband still really needs his pants ironed since you spent the whole day making cute baked Christmas goodies.

Don't feel bad about yourselves. I just cannot help the fact that my house is perfectly clean, my children are well-groomed and wearing matching clothes, my home smells of freshly baked goods, a made-from-scratch, completely nutricious dinner is on the table, and my children's legs are tired because they constantly rise up and call me blessed. Some of us have it and some of us don't.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas: Jesus' Birthday and Ours Too

Who knew baking 14 mini-loaves of pumpkin bread, preparing one batch of cracker candy, and starting a Butterfinger trifle and a cream cheese Danish could be so exhausting? I guess when you add washing dishes 53 times, preparing three meals, two of them for six people, rocking babies, picking the magnets up off of the floor 94 times, sending and replying to 37 texts, answering 17 phone calls, folding a load of laundry, and sweeping, it makes more sense. And Chris did a huge load of dishes, gave two baths, and washed one very thick and long head of hair. It’s been a good day.

Not to change the subject, but here is my approach to Advent this year: When God shows me something cool, share it with my kids and call it Advent. Now, as someone who is a planning perfectionist, this sounds kind of like failure. But, as a mom of four who is not gifted in the creative crafty area, I am learning that not everything has to be “perfect.” (I would like to let you know that I realize I overuse the quotation marks in my posts, but I find there is no way to stop myself. I have a problem. I apologize if this drives any of you crazy.) Since it’s not about impressing others but impressing my kids’ hearts with the love of Christ, it’s okay if we don’t have the cutest crafts or the most intricately planned evenings together. (This is not to knock those of you who are wonderfully crafty and creative, but to free those of us who aren’t from the enemy’s tactic of comparing ourselves to one another.)

Despite the fact the we missed our planned, focused time on Sunday night, I didn’t go with the old me, declaring the whole month to be a failure and throwing in the Advent towel. We just went with the flow and did it on Tuesday. I might have mentioned that this year, we made our first week’s focus on Immanuel – the fact that God became flesh, left His throne in heaven, and came to be with us. This week, through the study of 1 Peter, God had impressed upon my heart the idea of birth.

Obviously, this time of year we hear the word birth mentioned a lot, since we’re celebrating the birth of a Savior. The amazing part of it all doesn’t stop with His birth, or with the idea of God with us. It continues to include our birth and God in us. In 1 Peter 1, we read: 3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.”

As a mom to four children (have I mentioned that before?) which I happened to give birth to, the one word that always comes to my mind when I think of the day they entered this world is “miraculous.” To know that one minute they were unborn and the next they had begun this crazy journey in this world is crazy. There is no explanation for the way two people come together for a moment and a life is begun. God gives us a part in it, but it is all His doing. Another word associated with birth is “newness.” It always blows my mind as I look at their little face and hands and feet to think of how new and fresh and untouched they are in that moment. There is such hope and promise all wrapped up in that new life. It seems that no matter what anyone thought of that little life before they laid eyes on it, the moment they glimpse the baby for the first time, something in their heart changes. Birth changes things for so many people in so many ways.

I love how God doesn’t just haphazardly create the physical and then think, “Wow! I could totally use this as a spiritual lesson.” He creates the physical for the purpose of using it as a mirror to the spiritual. And we just don’t get that sometimes. When Nicodemus spoke to Jesus and was told he must be born again, he didn’t get it. Last night, Jack said, “Nicodemus was looking at in a man way, but Jesus meant it in a heavenly way.” Exactly. God means all these things that we see as purely physical or earthly to reflect and point to a much greater spiritual truth.

The fact is, we are born to sin and death, and without the birth of Immanuel and the miracle of God with us, we would remain that way. But now, now we have access to the gift of God in us. Without putting God in us, the fact that He came to be with us doesn’t change our lives. His birth as a man allows our birth by the Spirit. We are alive! We are new! Through His humble birth, we are given a glorious birth! He crossed the gap between the physical world and the spiritual world, making a way for us to be born, not physically, but spiritually.

Your inheritance on earth is determined by your physical birth. You may be left a pile of dough or a pile of debt. Our spiritual inheritance is determined by our spiritual birth, or the lack thereof ,and you will be left with a pile of blessing or a pile of torment. Peter calls the inheritance of a believer “priceless… kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.” I’m alive and I get to stay that way, through the birth of Christ, His death, and resurrection. He was born physically to die, but we are born spiritually to live! We get Him and He is life.

And that’s why we celebrate the birth of a baby, because it means birth for us as well. And the birth leads to hope, peace, joy…all the things written on ornaments and cards this time of year. Miraculous, I tell you. It’s good to be alive!

As the Lord was bringing this all together in my mind, I happened to hear “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” on the radio and couldn’t believe how beautifully the second and third verses fit what He had been saying.

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

The kids ate up the whole discussion while we ate dinner, we sang a very off-pitch rendition of “Hark the Herald,” and then we just left the mess in the kitchen and headed to do the Advent wreath. We relit the “God With Us” candle and lit the “God In Us” candle. (FYI: Those are totally made up by yours truly and not the official meanings of the candles.) Then our sweet Lukey broke out in worship with “God of Wonders” and we all joined in. Then I smiled as our three big kids got down on their knees with their heads to the ground as Chris prayed. It was a sweet, unplanned moment in the midst of a busy week.

And then Sam puked. Joy to the world.

As it turns out, God’s timing was perfect. If we hadn’t left the kitchen mess to finish our Christ-focused time, it wouldn’t have happened because we’d have been cleaning up puke instead. In the midst of vomit, I chose to put the old me (who would have been gripped with fear of the bug, dread of the puking, and disappointment over potentially ruined plans for the rest of the week) behind me and live in my new self. What a great chance to choose to count it joy and see it with an eternal perspective. God has a purpose in puke. You can quote me on that. (Someone might need to be prepared to remind me of that if this thing makes its rounds.)

Go celebrate the life you have! Or if you don’t have it, get it!

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. 1 Peter 1:6

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Please Don't Judge My Whole Blog by This Post

About every other post I write, after I publish it and get in the shower (doesn’t everybody shower after they write?), I have this feeling that maybe I’ve already written that very same thing before. I always end up hoping that if I can’t remember then the fourteen people who read this stuff won’t remember either. So, if I’ve already written the stuff in this post in any previous posts, just humor me and don’t mention it. Thanks!

I will also warn you that if you want words with meat or even words that are slightly entertaining, you best stop reading this now and immediately find another blog - or google "church of the flying spaghetti monster". That would fall under the entertaining category, or possibly the spiritually disturbing. On second thought, just stick with me.

So, Lukey is our resident comedian. Sometimes he means to be funny and sometimes it’s purely on accident. So many of the things he says, though, are so much funnier when you hear him say it in that cute little way that he talks. If you’d like to come hang out with us for a few days and get the full effect, you’re welcome to…if you’ll also commit to cooking dinner.

Lately, he does this question thing. At first, he starts out with the typical “why” stuff.

L: What’s that kind of car?
Chris: It’s a van.
L: Why?

L: What’s this crunchy stuff I’m walking on?
Chris: Grass.
L: Why?

You get my drift. I’m pretty sure that “why” is not a valid question in these instances, but Luke would disagree.

But then he takes it to this whole other Lukey level.

Me: Luke, move your cup back from the edge of the table.
L: Why?Me: So you won’t spill your milk.
L: What if we dooz spill our milk?

Me: Luke, quit hitting your brother in the head with that.
L: Why?
Me: So you won’t hurt Sam and make him cry.
L: What if he dooz cry?

It’s like he’s just weighing all his options…just making sure he wants to go with my suggestion rather than play it dangerously and see what happens.

(FYI: We strongly suggest they not say “Oh my gosh.”) Yesterday, he said, “Oh my go-…heavens.” I said, “Lukey, what’s oh my heavens?” He answered, “I don’t know. I don’t have any heavens.”

He’s so sweet, too. He’ll frequently show me his “sweet face” and say, “You’re my best mommy I ever had,” or “Sam’s the best baby I ever had.”

The other night I was giving Maddie and Jack what-for after listening to five minutes of them fighting over something as important as who was going to zip up Jack’s jacket so Maddie could fold it and make it a “jacket baby.” Luke sat between me and Jack on the couch as I laid it on heavy, his eyes wide and his mouth still, for once. I glanced over at him, to which he quickly said, with an alarmed look on his face, “Why you lookin’ at me like that? I not in trouble. Don’t be mad.”

I’ll stop boring you now with all the things I think are funny about my kid that others couldn’t care less about. I know there have been some really funny moments lately, but I’m too indifferent to try to remember them, much less write them down when they happen. Just thought I’d share some Lukeyisms in case you’re having trouble sleeping and the whole sheep thing isn’t working out.

To give you a preview, we had a really great advent experience tonight that I’m eager to share, but I’m heading to bed for right now. We have a puker, so I don’t know how much sleep this night will actually bring me. Better snatch it while I can. And if I’m MIA for a few days, it probably means we’re all puking our guts out. Lord, have mercy.

Monday, December 5, 2011

It's Game Time

Just thought I'd give you a heads up that there's something funny coming down the pipes. Our very own superstar Jack Bond is playing basketball. At the first meeting yesterday, we found out that our first game is in two months after we get in lots of practice time Saturday. Jack is amazingly smart and can remember a chapter of Scripture like an elephant, but he's not exactly known far and wide for his toughness. The funny thing is, if you know any of the other people on his team, I think he may fit right in.

I just wanted to put the warning out there that whatever little church team we're playing this Saturday might want to prepare mentally for what they're going to see as they come out on the court. It is going to be intimidation at its peak.

The good news is that Jack got in approximately four minutes of practice with Papa last night, in his driveway, in the dark. Everything was going fine for the first three and a half minutes, but then the ball did that old bounce off the rim and smack you in the face thing that I always dreaded as a kid (and may still). The cries could be heard for miles around. Funnily enough, Jack and Papa had two different versions of the story. Let's just say one of them caught a shark and one caught a minnow. (Fish stories...get it?)

And trust me when I say I'm laughing with Jack (or maybe crying with him) because just as he got his amazing mental faculties from his mom (ha!), he got his tendency to stay as far away from flying balls as possible from me as well. I still vividly remember basketball relays in middle school. I would sit with a knot in my stomach, praying that they would skip my number and I would get away without having to race someone to the middle of the court and toss a ball backward over my head, hoping to get a goal. I was actually hoping the ball wouldn't go near the goal so that it wouldn't come back and whop me in the back of the head. Seriously, is that even necessary? Are basketball players ever required to blindly toss a ball backward in an attempt to score? I think generally they use the look-before-you-shoot method.

Maddie may or may not be playing as well. Her team is sorely lacking in committed players, so we'll just have to see how it all plays out. Fortunately for her, she's a little more like her daddy in the whole athletic ability department. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Some of us can think deep thoughts. Others of us can put balls through hoops. You decide who the truly talented ones are here. :)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Intro to Advent

It’s plain to see if you spend more than 1.75 seconds with me or reading my blog that I am NOT super-mom material. I cannot spend too much time reading all of the bazillions of super-mom blogs out there, because rather than inspire me, they make me consider the fact that I should put my kids up for adoption so that they have some chance of having a mom who does nature walks or educational crafts that I can’t even describe in some funny way because I don’t know what it would even be! (I’m pretty sure that made absolutely no sense to any of you.) So, if I ever do anything remotely super-momish, you can rest assured that it will go on the blog. That way, when my kids are struggling to remember all those wonderful things I did for them during their childhood, I will have an exhibit all ready to go. How very handy.

Each year we celebrate Advent in a slightly different way, not so much because I’m getting better at it or tweaking it, but because I’m too lazy to write down what we do to refer back to the next year. To make it sound better, I tell myself we’re just following the Spirit and letting it be laid back. When I read all those cutesy things out there that awesome families do, I get stressed and overwhelmed. That kind of defeats the point, so I let myself off the hook and do something easy. You might call it setting my standards low. I call it enjoying family time rather than making myself want to pluck my eyelashes out. (Because that just sounds better to me.)

I might be documenting some of what we do here so that a) I can remember it for next year and b) you can feel A-okay about what you’re doing at your house, because it’s surely more creative and fun than our plan. You’re welcome for the confidence booster.

The first thing we did was something new this year. It’s so simple and obvious, but it took a whack in the head by the Spirit for me to think of it. I realized that if we were decorating purely to celebrate the birth of Christ, all the things we put out should point back to Jesus. So, as we decorated, we had a good discussion about why we use what we use and what it tells us about the Lord. I thought I might have to prompt the kids a little, but wouldn’t you know…they’re brilliant! They came up with something for everything I asked them about. They knew that the evergreen tree pointed to the everlasting life we have in Christ. The red holly berries remind us of Christ’s blood spilled for us. The lights…duh – the Light of the World! Chris even pointed out that just as Christmas lights shines from our house as people drive by, Jesus’ light should shine forth from us. Ya’ll, I didn’t claim this was rocket science, but it was a simple conversation starter.

I do have a confession, though. I couldn’t bring myself to part with the brown metal reindeer I have sitting on my piano. Chris assured me that they are part of God’s creation, and we did place them by the nativity scene, so they represent all the animals at the stable. Because we all know there is a plethora of antlered deer in Israel. It’s a commonly known fact. Don’t judge.

We’ve also discussed how we can use questions the kids are asked about Santa (we don’t “do Santa” - you can see here for the explanation) to tell others what we are really celebrating at Christmas. Again, the kids came up with great answers all on their own. Maddie had a humdinger of one, to which I replied, “That’s great, Maddie! Would you actually say that to someone?” She quickly answered, “No.” So, we just took that moment to pray for a little more boldness in our lives. :)

We got off to a great Advent start last week, and now we’ve encountered a devastating combination of busy, lazy, and uncreative. The wind has gone out of our Advent sails, and it’s only December 4. But that means there is still plenty of time to do lots more wonderful things, right? Except not any night this week because we’re too busy. And Saturday’s out because we’re booked from 9am to 9pm. Sunday would be good except the kids will be at church all day performing in the church’s Christmas choir program.

Okay, I give up. The wonderful thing is that there are always great opportunities for conversations as we go. And we will carve out some time this week to be still and know that God has done something amazingly special for us. Okay, three people in our house are never actually still, but you know what I mean.

Before I go do all the things still left on my crazy long list, I’ll add one more item of Christmas fun. It’s our very own little Elf on a Shelf Box.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Away in a Manger, Dreaming of Cider

What is it about writing or speaking about something that immediately leads me to be tested or challenged in that same area? I wrote an article for our church's women's ministry newsletter about how we celebrate (or attempt to) Christmas in a Christ-centered way at our house, and now I'm feeling so unmotivated and lazy! I don't want to do anything to day, be that cleaning, intentionally teaching my kids through stories, crafts, whatever, or going and making the cup of apple cider that I want right now. I've got a horrible case of the lazies! I've got to shake this, or December is going to get off to a rocky start.

So, to motivate us all (or maybe just me, because I'm sure you're all diligently keeping your home, molding your children into Christ-likeness, or at least drinking apple cider rather than dreaming of it), here's a little Christmas tidbit to start off this most festive month!

This year, I am seeking to experience Christmas in a more Christ-centered way than I ever have before. Jesus has always been a part of my celebration, but as the Lord slowly (and painfully) takes more of the world out of me and puts my focus on Him, I see how much this holiday has always been about me. I have loved Christmas for the “magic”, the break from all things mundane, the good times, the gifts, the food, the beauty. None of those things are bad, but they are all a poor substitution for the thing that this season is really all about. We all use those trite phrases “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” and “Jesus is the Greatest Gift of All,” but how many times do we mean them? Or do they just make us feel better about ourselves as we trade in what really matters for things that don’t?

Honestly, I have always struggled a little bit to reconcile singing Christmas carols during our worship time at church during the month of December. Don’t get me wrong. I love the carols. It’s just that they don’t usually evoke a worshipful heart from me. But this year it’s been totally different. The songs that are so familiar and laden with so many memories and emotions have taken on new life as I meditate on them in light of the miracle of God becoming man. I challenge you, if you’ve never done so, to ponder the words and the absolute mystery and miracle of what they describe.

Away in a manger (when moments before, You had been on a throne)
No crib for a bed (though all of heaven and earth is yours)
The little Lord Jesus (who is bigger than anyone can fathom)
Laid down His sweet head. (that would wear a crown of thorns)

The stars in the sky (that He created with nothing more than a word)
Look down where He lay (within the world He created and sustains even today)
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay.
(immortal God who is now man and must sleep)

Be near me, Lord Jesus, (for I am desperate for you)
I ask Thee to stay (though I wander)
Close by me forever,
and love me, I pray.
(Thank you that I don’t even have to ask, for you are faithful)
Bless all the dear children (please draw my children to your heart)
in thy tender care, (thank you for your tenderness, Lord)
And take us to heaven, (the only place I want to be)
to live with Thee there. (with the only One I desire)

Take a moment to think about the words of these familiar songs and let God do something new and not-so-familiar in your heart.