Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Letter 2008

“Noel”. The other night as we were closing the pharmacy, one of my technicians asked me what “Noel” meant. This professing Christ follower of 26 years was found embarrassingly stumped. Noel. While two of them waited for an answer, I quickly ran through in my mind the words of the carol, you guessed it, The First Noel, and still came up ignorant. Although too late, at my first opportunity, I Googled “noel” as fast as my fingers could punch the keys and this is what I found. Noel refers to “the Christmas celebration or a Christmas carol”. According to the beloved carol, the angels were announcing to a world that a “celebration” was in order. The Savior, OUR Savior, had been born! “Noel! Born is the king of Israel!” So “Noel” my dear family and sweet friends! We send these greetings as we begin the most spectacular celebration of the year. For those of you who are interested, here is our update.

Julia, who will be 7 in January: I love her affinity for a good book or story, her great affection for her “Daddy”, her desire to get the full experience in all she tries, and that, one day, she wants to move to the woods, build a log cabin and play her guitar. (Brighton insists that he would have to go with her because “girls can’t carry logs around on their backs”.) What I learned new about her is that she wants “abyss-like” darkness to sleep, likes to take her time, prefers the outdoors, and values deeply her friendships. My favorite thing about her right now is her adventurous personality which is expressed in her desire to try new things, some of which turn out fine and some of which cause her to end up in my lap.

Brighton, who just turned 5: I love his enthusiasm for life, his ego-centric prayers like, “Don’t let the mosquitoes get on my birthday cake.”, the intensity with which he plays T-ball and soccer, and that he still loves his blanket. What I learned new about Brighton are the ways his little planner brain manifests. It might be in placing his clothes on the floor for the next day in the shape of a “little boy” complete with underwear, or in making his lunch for school, or in asking, “What car will you pick me up in?” if we’ve asked him to leave something in the car he really likes, or the thing that at times drives me to pray, in his consistently asking, “What are we having for breakfast (lunch, dinner)?” Also, I was shocked to learn that he possesses a surgeon-like ability to play pick up sticks and that he has a knack for picking out baseball chants on his keyboard. My favorite thing about him right now is that he still wants to live at home after he gets married so he can talk and have coffee with me at night and I can tuck him in afterwards.
Jeff continues to enjoy his full time role with Tarrant Net (www.tarrantnet.org) and his work with a 3 year old church plant in Keller (www.visitacf.org). We are often reminded of Candleridge days as we see entire families changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I am into my second year of home schooling and truly love it. My favorite part, besides getting to see the “I get it!” look, is that we have been able to read so many wonderful books. I am also getting to re-learn (learn?) history right along with the children. I enjoy my time with them but on some days I find myself longing for a nap in a dark, dark room, wishing for a full-time cook, pining for a strong cup of coffee, or seriously hunting for my well hidden dark chocolate. I get the coffee and chocolate more often than I get that nap which, after all things considered, is a toss up.

May your “Noel” be full of moments of worship and praise of the “Babe in poverty” whose “blood hath mankind bought”. “Noel! Born is the King of Israel!!”

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Dozen a Day


A few weeks a go, some friends and I got to be part of a group to preview an Imax film about Vincent Van Gogh. As the film concluded with the documentation of the latter part of the artist’s life, I learned how frantically he painted. He was known to have turned out 70 oil paintings in 70 days in the last year of his life. After seeing his huge, gloppy brushstrokes up close for the first time, I couldn't imagine how much paint he must have dipped into during those 2 months. Thankfully, nothing about this man reminded me of my son EXCEPT his frantic, in our case, drawing. On any given day there are at least a dozen drawings around the house, mostly on the kitchen table and on my desk. However, one Wednesday night after work when I was turning back the covers of our bed, tucked under my pillow, I found a Christmas picture of a tree with ornaments and the beginning of the attempt to write "I wish you a Merry Christmas.” (He made it to “u”.) Sweet dreams,for sure. His pictures are typical 5 year old material- not amazing- just abundant. Every time I go to “print” something on my computer, I hear the familiar “beep, beep, beep” because there is NO paper in my printer. I gave up on the "save a tree" thing months ago. Brighton is not "green". The "other side" does not interest him at all. He likes his paper crisp, white and very blank. He is getting a reem of paper for Christmas!
Most of Brighton’s drawings are of maps and roads which have become three dimensional at Miss Barbara’s adding road blocks, stop signs, and cars made of toothpicks and pasta wheels. He also loves to draw football fields with either the letters “TCU” on the fifty yard line or since our October trip to Greenville, South Carolina, the diamond “F” for Furman. Some of my favorites are the Statue of Liberty, a pirate boat, me holding him as a baby(at the very bottom) and the lay out of our November Pilgrim Party complete with seating arrangements and turkey.
Here is one he actually did in art class at Science Etc. It is a favorite because of the story he told that goes with it.



The pirate ship is on the left, with flags and people. I think you see the fish. Do you see the key sort of floating in the air? The door on top of the water? Here is the story: The pirates dropped the key to the treasure chest (on the bottom right) and they are hurrying to try to get it before it goes through the door that opens to the pathway that leads to the deepest part of the ocean where the treasure chest is! I loved that.
Here is his first of many nativity scenes. There are a few stars but there is certainly a special one. Don’t miss the moon. I like the road with the middle markers. The shepherds had it easy in this story. Baby Jesus is in the right place. I am not sure why Mary and Joseph are so far removed but at least Joseph is really happy.


I love that he draws. I think what I love the most is to find out what he's thinking about- not that he doesn't tell me a thousand times a day, but it is fun to see how he "sees" what he is thinking about. You can bet the first silent treatment I am given, I will promptly hand him a clean , very blank, fresh pad of drawing paper and hope he remembers.

Even though I sort of look like his favorite monkey named George, I like my big smile.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Necessary Confidence


If you like to write, it takes time, as all things do. It also requires a mood, energy and sometimes even an atmosphere. Over the last couple of months, I have had all of those things, but not ever at the same time. I would have something floating around in my mind I would like to have seen processed through my fingers on to the screen but each time either the almighty list or my pillow would win out. Stiff competition. Today, I think all the “planets” (those being kids, Jeff, a block of time) have lined up correctly and so now my trouble is which floating subject do I rescue from never being expressed??? I know it matters to no one else but what therapy it is for me to think through it and see it on my screen!
I think most pressing to me would be Julia. True to the female species, our relationship is multi-faceted. I know I am in critical years (if they are not over already) of laying a foundation for our relationship from which I hope to benefit for years to come. I know the fruit I want to see years from now, but getting there, the “how to”, is proving the most difficult thing I have ever set out to do. Wow. I never knew it was possible to have so many parenting questions in the span of a day. I have always been a second guesser, always questioning my decisions, and I am learning in parenting there is no time for that personality quirk. If I second guess myself, I wind up looking like a dufus TV parent and if I don’t, I wind up apologizing a few minutes later. So my thoughts go, is she behaving like this because I am her mother AND her teacher, because she feels I didn’t spend enough time with her yesterday, because that cough is more than an aggravating allergy, because we haven’t had enough foursome family time, because she hasn’t gotten to play with her girlfriends this week, because we have been traveling a lot lately, because I need to switch from math to spelling “right now”, because her brother awakened her too early, because she is six?? I know I need more confidence-- to take hold of it. Confidence in what the Lord has called me to do. Confidence in the fact that God has equipped me with all I need to do this job in a manner worthy of His affirmation. Confidence in the awesome fact that I am the mother He hand picked for her.

Over the last month or so, we have been in, what I can’t describe any better than, a funk. Nothing has been much fun. She and I seem to be butting heads on everything from 8+3 to what is for breakfast. Sometime in October, reading time during “school” which is normally the highlight of our morning, started being rushed and brief because of the trouble we were having earlier in the school morning. I began to let my mind wander to thoughts like, “Am I really supposed to be doing this?”, “Is this really good for her?”, “Do I know what is best for her?”, “Am I going to know when to give her more freedom?” She and I have prayed often asking God to help us to obey Him, to understand each other and to make good decisions. Thinking that she and I just needed some time to reconnect and enjoy each other, I had my sights set on the Mother Daughter weekend which was a couple of weekends away.

A few weekends ago, we made the trip to south Texas with our dear friends Nikki and Atlee. I rode down with lofty expectations for the weekend thinking that on the way home I would feel as if I were her “favorite” person again. Before leaving home, I had resolved to be a “Yes Mom” (within reason) while at the retreat—letting her make her food choices and picking her activities for Saturday. I was feeling responsible for some of our “troubles” and therefore, had been feeling insecure in my parenting abilities. I thought maybe allowing her more control would help our situation even though it had backfired the weekend before. (I allowed her to make her food choices while lunching at a friend’s house. After her barely eaten lunch plate was taken from the table, she was given a choice between two desserts. She chose one, finished it and then politely asked for the second choice, finished that and politely asked for a second helping of the latter! Hmmm…..) I was excited about listening to the speaker for the retreat expecting God to use her to untangle this knotted parenting mess out.

When it came time to sign up for activities, I let her choose: rock climbing, horse riding, and the Giant Swing. Perfect. When it came time for the Giant Swing, she began to ask if she and Atlee could do it together. Oh my. This swing is “giant” in every sense of the word. Once your harness and helmet is strapped on correctly, you are literally hooked to the swing. You are pulled up into the tree tops about thirty feet in the air and then released causing you to free fall through the woods and then swing back and forth until you stop. Julia is adventuresome but not quite “fall from the sky” adventuresome. She had no idea. I knew she didn’t. In attempts to change her mind, I first started with the, “I want to do it with you!” routine, then went with the “Nikki wants to do it with Atlee.” bit, and then, my last resort, the, “I don’t think you two weigh enough to do it by yourselves.” half truth (I used “think”)--- all the time Nikki looking at me like, “I want to help but I am enjoying watching you try way too hard.” None of this ended her begging which turned into crying (????) so finally, I just put my size 9 parent foot down and said, “No. You and I are doing it together. No more discussion.” When it came to our turn, a half pouty Julia and I climbed the contraption to get into the swing. Once harnessed in, I asked her if she wanted to go all the way to the top. We had watched most pairs stop about half or three quarters of the way up. She wanted to go all the way to the top……of course. Well, once up there, I didn’t have time to breathe much less say, “You ready?” or “You doing okay?” before the swing was set free and Julia was released into the rush of her 6 ¾ year old life. An unanticipated, unfamiliar, unwelcome rush, I might add. Her little bottom had slid off of the swing seat leaving her feeling VERY airborne. She couldn’t scream. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t cry. She was in shock. When she found her tongue, all she could say was, “I don’t like that. I don’t like that.” Over and over and over. I tried to comfort her as best I could swinging through areas meant only for birds and squirrels but once her feet were on the sweet ground, she burst into tears releasing the stress the best way she knew how. As I held her, I also held my tongue. She calmed down after several minutes and enjoyed the rest of her fun filled day. It wasn’t until a full 24 hours later did she say she MIGHT try it again when she was “bigger”.
On the drive home, I didn’t have the “reconnected” feeling I had hoped for on the drive down. There had been no major revelations during our sessions- no unknotting of my own messes. Thankfully, we had loads of fun and I could be somewhat satisfied with that. It wasn’t until I lay in bed that night praying about the next school day did the Lord remind me of the swing incident. It was such a simple thing but it was as if He wanted me to realize that I had known what was best for her when I needed to make a quick decision. He was reminding me of a small "something" on which to build my confidence and to depend on Him in these moments that are "historically" known to throw me for a loop. Small thing but big encouragement. He’s given me what I need. It is there for my taking. “ ..being confident of this, that He who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6
And I am confident that it will take every available minute until then.


Grandparent info:
These girls had a ball and are counting on next year already.
The weather was amazing that weekend as you can see the wading in the water in the afternoon and then the wearing heavy coats that night on the hayride. I was proud of her making it to the top of the rock climbing wall. She made sure she rang the bell and then repelled down beautifully! The highlight of the weekend may have been getting to have her fingernails and toenails painted any color she wanted. She picked several colors, of course.
These two girls enjoy each other so much and I couldn't be more thankful for their friendship. Atlee is a sweet girl in every sense of the word.... just like her momma.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Barney-que


I bet this won't surprise you, but I don't "do" silliness very well. Some people pull it off producing loads of laughter but I wind up looking, well, silly. When my kids enter that domain, they might get a laugh from me or it just might send my eyes rolling. Well, here's a "roller".

For some reason I haven’t figured out yet, we headed to Wal Mart yesterday.... Saturday. Not just any Saturday, but a Saturday just a couple of weeks before Christmas. We made it through the experience injury free, in under an hour and miraculously, with only one trip to the bathroom. As we were walking to the car, Juila began to sing what I, for a split second, thought was a familiar Christmas carol. Instead of the words I have always heard her sing, this is what marched uncomfortably into my ear, “Joy to the earth! Barney is dead! We’re bar- be- queing his head!” Got to love that, right? Okay, harmless, I know, but coming from my daughter’s mouth, it sounded a bit too barbaric. I knew exactly from whom she learned it because I had been serenaded with a strange little rendition of Jingle Bells last week. This “Joy to the World” variation was merely music lesson #2 from another little girl. Got to love that too, right?

The only person who (secretly) enjoyed this incident was Jeff. He never was a big Barney fan.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Christmas State of Mind (Conclusion)


During the Christmas season, our overwhelmed state of mind can overrule any opportunity for us to be overjoyed.
Here is our word: “OVERJOYED”—the result. This is the good part I was talking about. “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, and of incense and of myrrh.” Here is worship in its truest and loveliest form.
One of my most favorite things I found while looking at this text was the way Matthew worded “overjoyed” in the original language. If you have kids under 5, you know the TV show Charlie and Lola. Darling. The little sister, Lola, is known for her creative use of adjectives and adverbs as well as the unusual way she strings the words together. For example, “I must take very completely everything”, or “I am far too extremely busy”. This is what Matthew did when he described the wise men’s response. The original text says, “And having seen the star, they rejoiced with joy great exceedingly.” Superlatives pile upon superlatives to emphasize their exhilaration in true “Lola” form. Their rejoicing led them straight to their ultimate mission to worship Him and worship Him they did. They bowed low. They knelt. They prostrated themselves. They offered gifts. They sacrificed their time and energy to search for this One born King of the Jews. Their whole pilgrimage came to the pinnacle when they reached Joseph and Mary’s home. Once they were finally able to express their homage to the newborn King, their arrested hearts were released to return to their own country.

How can we worship our Savior at Christmas? Visit a live nativity. Have special prayer times. Read the Christmas story from Luke or pick up a special Christmas devotional book. Listen to music at home like Andrew Peterson's “Behold the Lamb of God” or any collection of music that draws you to worship. For children, throw a birthday party for Jesus. Take time to sing praises to Him and give the children an opportunity to give Him thanks. Know the “why” of your decorations. If we don’t know why, we don’t have the opportunity to worship. Consider an evergreen tree. In almost any culture throughout history it symbolizes eternity and everlasting life which our God is and offers. We credit Christmas lights to Martin Luther who after a walk one night came home and put candles on his tree so it would remind his children of the starry heavens the night Christ came down. There are books that have sections on this and many internet sites that explain the origins of our traditional decorations. If we know why and teach our children why, our homes will be full of reminders to be overjoyed and to worship the King during Christmas.
The sweetest example of this I know is a story about a little boy named Drew. His mother, Denise, has been my mentor for over 25 years. One Christmas morning she was awakened by her, then, 3 year old son when he sat up in bed and yelled for the whole house to hear, “Glory to the Newborn King!!”. As I had been blessed to observe, because of his parents intentionality, his heart had been primed for worship and worship he did………. as soon as he awakened.
As for our wise men, I think we need to remember, these guys were Gentiles. Their reason for being so excited had nothing to do with being delivered from oppression from the Romans. Just like little Drew, their reason for being “overjoyed with joy great exceedingly” was simply for WHO HE WAS, Jesus, the One born King of the Jews, the Savior of the world. In the end, they were overwhelmed by one thing only, the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ.
Have you ever gotten to the end of Christmas and felt a little empty, or a little dissatisfied? Oh, I have absolutely and I really think it was because I missed it. I missed the WHO of Christmas. I missed my opportunity to pay homage to the King.
Isaiah 29:13 says, “The Lord says, 'These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” My heart didn’t truly enter Christmas. I went through the motions, followed the holiday rules taught by men but never took the opportunity for genuine worship of the Savior.
As we wrap this up, I have to ask, so what about you? Ever gotten lost in the holiday rules? Ever missed the Who of Christmas? For those of us who know Christ, we have a choice to make.
Or, IS this Jesus the magi sought out so carefully your Savior this Christmas? The one conceived by the Holy Spirit and born 2000 years ago to a virgin girl named Mary? The One who willingly died on a cross for our sins? The One who walked out of the tomb defeating death in every way? His sole purpose in coming was to free our hearts from sin, give us life more abundantly and give us life eternal with Him. He wants nothing more than to have a relationship with us. That’s what’s so neat about the wise men – their presence in the Christmas story, is OUR, the Gentiles, open invitation to seek Him, find Him and worship Him. The thing about Jesus is that He already loves you no matter what. Romans 5:8 says this, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He just wants you to love Him back. He wants to take full responsibility for your life as you yield yourself wholly to Him. With no hesitation or doubt whatsoever, I can say you will never regret giving your heart to Him. As you bow to Him this Christmas, may you get up being changed forever. Make Him your treasure this Christmas.

Reality check #1: Friday morning as I began to decorate, one small detail didn't fall into place. I reacted and my kind husband sat me down Friday morning to remind me of my last 3 posts.

#2: The other morning, Brighton, awakened singing, "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree". (Denise, where did I go wrong?)



Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Christmas State of Mind (Part III)

During the Christmas season, our overwhelmed state of mind can overrule any opportunity for us to be overjoyed.
Here lies the choice---where we can choose stay in the overwhelmed or make a choice that creates room for something much greater for ourselves and our families.

I used to bake a lot—especially before the children came along. I all but stopped ,one, because I didn’t want the battle of being asked for it all day and two, because if it’s sitting around, it must be eaten and that would be my job. I think for a while there, Julia and Brighton thought I didn’t know how to make anything that wasn’t green or lean. I remember the first time I baked cookies when Julia wasn't asleep and was old enough to understand what I was doing. I let her sit on the counter and watch. She wanted to lick the beaters as all kids do, but when I put them in the oven, she did something I never expected. She got down on her knees in front of the oven and watched and waited—the entire 9 minutes!! For one who had just turned 3, this was quite impressive. She was intent on seeing the cookies come out of the oven and ultimately into her little mouth. I don’t even think the theme song to “Dora the Explorer” would have pulled her away. To kneel there was her choice and EXACTLY what she wanted to do at the time.


Again, looking at the magi, they made their choice and saw it through to the end. Their journey was intentional in every sense of the word. They did their research, their planning, so to speak, and they set out with one goal, one agenda. Unlike what I catch myself doing at times, they didn’t plan it on their way to somewhere else. They didn’t try to make it work since it was on their way. They didn’t set out because it seemed like a fun thing to do. They didn’t squeeze it in because they felt like they had to. IT was EXACTLY what they wanted to do. Seeking out the one born King of the Jews was their ONLY focus. Because we know the Christmas story, we know they made the journey. Nothing thwarted their purpose. Nothing distracted them from their mission. Nothing and no one overruled their quest. They chose to set their faces like flint and head for the Savior.

Each year I have to ask myself, what will my choice be? What will your choice be? Will I try to squeeze Jesus into my Christmas between going here and there? Will I drop off a “charity gift” only because I am headed that way for something else and it’s convenient? We don’t want to spend our Christmases being ruled by the calendar, passing each other through the doors of our home, running here and there not even seeing one another’s faces, much less having a moment to ponder the Savior’s birth. Who wants to spend every waking moment slave to a to-do list? How can we help our family make choices that won’t overrule opportunities to be overjoyed? I believe it’s a choice- a pretty monumental one at that.

Let your family SEE you making choices to seek the Lord this Christmas whether it be in your decorations, in your time together as a family, in your giving, in your calendar, in your free time and best of all, in your spirit. If your kids are small, keep talking about WHY you are doing what you are doing, “We are getting the house ready to celebrate the most important birthday ever!” “We are going to bake some things together to celebrate Jesus’s birthday!” “We are going to read some books/listen to music that helps us remember WHY we celebrate Christmas.” “We are going to give these gifts remembering the gift God gave us in His Son, Jesus.” And so on………..they will get the message if we are intentional in giving it to them. I think you see. The choice is ours. Will it be to stay in the overwhelmed or to create opportunities for something vastly different than crammed calendars and pretty decorations?

This third post is the hardest for me—to make the right choices in the midst of it all, in the midst of the dailies, in the midst of kids still needing to eat three times a day and so on. However, I believe with all that I have if I make these choices to focus on Him, He will show up in ways that my family will remember for years to come. With much anticipation, on my part, I will wrap this up in the next few days. I have certainly saved the best for last because it gives the motivation, the encouragement, the reward. It makes everything else make sense. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Christmas State of Mind (Part II)


And when [the Magi] saw the star, they were overjoyed. Matthew 2:10

During the Christmas season, our
overwhelmed state of mind can overrule any opportunity for us to be overjoyed.
When it comes to the problem of our overwhelmed state of mind, the Magi, even in all their pomp and splendor, represent a simplicity that is so attractive to me. Everything about what they did in Matthew chapter two was intentionally simple. Their focus was on one thing--- to find the Savior of the world and to worship Him. Therefore, questions I have to ask myself are: Is my focus intentionally simple or is it multi-dimensional causing everything to seem pointless and chaotic? Is my calendar a big overlapping mess? Is my to do list out of control? Am I feeling suffocated by all the options?

I will touch on three things that have helped me not to feel so overwhelmed. My biggest distraction is the calendar. I think of myself as the “keeper” or “protector” of the calendar at our house. My son Brighton is ALL about the calendar and our schedule. He has been since he was three. SEVERAL times a day, he asks me where we are going and what are we going to do? He has been known to do this many days in advance which, sometimes, just wears me out. Two things go on here: One, most of time I don’t even know and when I admit that, it frustrates him or disappoints him. Two, sometimes I don’t want to be reminded of what is 72 hours away. I like things one at a time. (Finally, at 38, I can admit that I am not a great multi-tasker.) However, because of him, I am almost always aware of what’s “next” on the calendar and it can become overwhelming.

Does it not amaze you how all those calendar squares can fill up so fast? A new month looks really good until about the last few days of the month before. Practically speaking, I think this is where the delete button comes in real handy. I see it sometimes as almost a fight—a fight for time with my family. If I don’t guard it, someone or something else will be happy to take it over.

When it comes to the calendar during the Christmas season, our family tries to keep at least two weeknights and two blocks of time on the weekend blacked out for our family in order to experience the holidays together. This means that we don’t get to accept every single invitation or take advantage of all that is going on in our great city. I am not saying we bar the doors and lock ourselves in (even though, at times, that sounds blissful) but, as keepers of the calendars, we have to be intentional to make room to be overjoyed instead of overwhelmed. Intentionality means sitting down, making decisions and mapping out December with your family.
There are all sorts of ideas out there about what to do when you make the time to be at home. Some of my favorites are reading Christmas books (that have been out of sight since last Christmas), cooking together, letting the kids tell the Christmas story with the nativity pieces (again and again and again), watching a Christmas classic, listening to quiet Christmas music snuggled up under the light of the tree, crafting a gingerbread house, answering Christmas questions like: What is your favorite Christmas memory or Christmas present and why? What is the first Christmas you really remember? How do you think (pick a character from the Christmas story) felt and why? It doesn't have to be a dog and pony show. The main thing is being intentional about being together. The possibilities are endless. Proverbs 12:20 says there is “joy for those who promote peace”. Starting with the calendar, let’s be intentional about promoting some peace which clears the way for experiencing joy in our homes.

The second thing I try to do to ward off that overwhelmed feeling is planning. Rocket science, I know, but sometimes it feels like it to actually carry it out. To avoid surprises later, I recommend you make your to do list and take a look at it even before Thanksgiving. (Surprises seem massive in December.) I know it’s a discipline but I have done it both ways and planning is now a no-brainer for me. Just pick a day in November (like today) and list all that has to be done and by what date. You will be amazed by how much you can whittle away now that you have identified it.

The last thing I’ll share that has helped me to simplify my focus during the Christmas season is my decorations. Before we had kids, someone challenged me to be intentional even in this area. I was encouraged to weed out anything in my Christmas boxes that might confuse visitors or our kids about what or who we were celebrating. I have to say this was hard because I had many wonderful things that met that “confusing” criteria. But over the years, I have realized that being intentionally focused on the “who” we are celebrating has simplified my decorating and my purchases. Don’t get me wrong. I love to decorate for Christmas. I am actually energized by it and I consider it part of my celebration- that is, unless I have a problem with a string of lights and that is when I call on Jeff to "celebrate" with me! However, there is a focus on Christ that, for me, makes it all much simpler.

The next post will be about our choice in all of this. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Christmas State of Mind (Part I)

Last November, a special friend from my past called me up from San Antonio and for who knows why, asked me to speak at her church's Ladies Christmas Brunch. After many discussions with the Lord, I agreed with fear, trembling and great waves of nausea. As I prepared, I knew why He had urged me on to do it. I'd love to share it with you over the next few weeks in hopes of encouraging you in your preparation of your family's Christmas experience.

I’ve always had a thing for Christmas. I believe my Mom had a lot to do with that. Christmas was the time of year my fairly practical Mom pulled out all the stops and to my delight let me help her. Old Christmas music would come out, 2 trees would go up, stockings she needle pointed were hung on the mantle, garland was draped all over the place—I just loved it. Even though she had "constants" in her decorating, she would also try new things. I remember one of my favorite things she did was when I was probably 7 or so. In our breakfast room there was a huge bay window. She cleared it off and found every size terra cotta pot she owned, filled them with sand, placed different sized candles in each one and arranged all the pots at various heights in the window. When she lit the candles, it was the prettiest thing I had ever seen—all the flickering flames dancing with their reflections. I remember asking her every night if she would light them, not understanding why she wouldn’t when it was so beautiful. She also established some simple traditions that my brother and I anticipated all year. Many of those traditions are carried out in one way or another in our own homes. My mom did what she knew how to make our Christmases special and I am so grateful for that.

As I get older, I am learning that the “Christmas” word evokes all kinds of responses from people--everything from the warm fuzzies to full-out panic. I am sure as you read you have some pretty good words floating around in your own head. Much of what I see during Christmas are words fall closer to the chaos side of the spectrum because of all we try to do in a short maddening 30 day period: decorate the house, shop in stores that we never enter the other 335 days of the year, take a family picture, wrap gifts for seemingly everyone we know, make travel plans, pack, cook strange foods, host parties, attend more parties, schedule special outings, attend kids programs, volunteer SOMEWHERE, clean the house as never before, stuff and address cards to our entire address book (and to those who aren’t who sent us a card last year), not to mention just our normal stuff………the dailies. Bring on the straight jacket and padded cell, right?

Who wants to turn the calendar page over with all of this waiting to be scooped onto your plate—or should I say, platter? The thing is, some of it is just reality. Stuff happens between Thanksgiving and New Years that you just can’t skip. However, I feel our job as “Mom” is to help our family navigate through the barrage of activities without losing our focus on the sweetness and the magnitude of this season. Just like me, you want something different for yourself and for your family that God has entrusted to you.

Here’s a taste of the sweetness. It’s from the book of Matthew chapter 2. (vs.7-10) “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” Now there’s a word worth tasting. “OVERJOYED.”

When was the last time you were overjoyed? What kind of thing causes you to be “overjoyed”? I love the way another translation puts it, “They could hardly contain themselves.” What evokes this sort of emotion in you? I think we can learn a lot from that mysterious group of men, the Magi.
First, let’s get all the facts in order.
Who: The magi or wise men
What: The birth of a King marked by a special star
When: about 2000 years ago when the Jews were completely oppressed by the Roman
Empire
Where: From the east, to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem
Why: To quote the magi from chapter 2 verse 2, “We saw the star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

The “Who” is worth a second look. We know these magi from the east were certainly wise, wealthy, respected and powerful Gentile men knowledgeable in all sorts of areas but famous for their knowledge of astrology and astronomy. “Wise men”, as they are traditionally labeled, show up all through the Bible. I won’t go into all of it, but it makes for some very interesting reading. The ones that entered the scene in Jerusalem looking for the “one who has been born king of the Jews” were most likely of a lineage influenced by Judaism because of their great respect for the Old Testament Daniel and his writings. These guys showed up in Jerusalem thinking that any Israelite they walked up to would know the exact whereabouts of this newborn King of the Jews. They had seen the star....... now, they wanted to see the king. Finding out the baby was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem, off they went. Finally, they saw the star again which had stopped over the place where Jesus lived. They had arrived and “they could hardly contain themselves”. You have to love these men. Overjoyed men. TIRED overjoyed men. Some estimate their travels taking at least 2 years to get to Joseph and Mary’s home. But they had reached the WHY of their journey and were about to get to experience what their mission was all about. Worship the King of the Jews. They were overjoyed because God had revealed Himself to them and gave them the most amazing opportunity anyone could ever be offered. To seek Him, to find Him and to save the best for last, WORSHIP Him.

So here is where I am going for the next 3 "pre-Christmas" posts:
During the Christmas season, our overwhelmed state of mind can overrule any opportunity for us to be overjoyed. Practically, we will look at our state of mind, our choice and the result.

(Picture- My brother and I on our first Christmas in the house in which we grew up and now get to visit with our children. We didn't even have beds in the house that Christmas Eve, so having a tree was a stretch. It just makes me think how excited my parents must have been to have Christmas in their new home.)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

As Good As It Gets


My “Smalltown”, Georgia has a name. Soperton. Or for a more descriptive title “The Million Pines City”. Julia, Brighton and I just spun out of a whirlwind four day weekend in my hometown. As far as small towns go, this weekend was as good as it gets.

On Thursday night, as we turned off the interstate around 10 pm , Brighton asked if we were “in the pine trees” yet. The towering trees resemble walls on either side of the 2 lane road that leads to our lengthy driveway. Once in the garage, the first glimpse of light I saw from my parent’s open front door included a silhouette of my Dad on the floor after being affectionately tackled by Julia and Brighton--a grand hello for sure. The grand hello for me was the 12 layer chocolate cake Denise had made and dropped off earlier in the day for my belated birthday gift. Yes, 12. You truly cannot imagine.

Early Friday morning, we had our own personal alarm clock to rouse our Texas time bodies from slumber. Who else but Uncle Blake? (I had faintly heard the “Go Vikings” text message arrive before that.) His demonstrative excitement is infectious and no matter how misplaced (or poorly timed), it’s still always forgivable. Before Brighton’s feet hit the floor, he eagerly started the weekend of merciless teasing and rough housing by telling his uncle he had a “knuckle sandwich” ready for him.

One of the first things I wanted to see on Friday was “the store”. For the last 35 or so years, the first weekend of November has always been The Million Pines Arts and Crafts Festival. It draws people from all over south Georgia into our little town. For the last several years, my Dad has had an interior decorator come in and, in every way possible, “deck the halls” and deck them again. A myriad of trees, wreaths, sprays, mantle drapes, chandelier additions are all for purchase including all the stuff to do it yourself. This was the first time I got to see it. Wow. Indescribable. As I have said before, the store is always full of lovely things- a standard my Mom set years ago. This trip I actually remembered to pack an extra bag for the sole purpose of filling it with things from the drugstore.

Later that day, we spent some time outdoors at Nanna and Papaw’s. My city girl longs to be a country girl. She “fits” well on a fence, can coax a horse to her side, is content chasing aloof “barn cats”, can climb a tree in clogs, knows how to make a broom out of pine straw and a stick and can most definitely lay on a accent right THICK.
She warned me on the plane that I would be “talking real Southern” when we left Soperton—something that is hard NOT to do. On Saturday, she let me know that I wasn’t talking funny yet. Once she said, “Mom, I said something Southern! I said, ‘Whacha gone do?’” She was proud. Another time, she said, “Mom, did you hear what she said about me? She said, ‘You’re so ‘purty’.’” The only problem with that is that I heard my friend say it and didn’t even notice.


Our main reason for making the trip was to watch my newly 16 year old nephew quarterback my old high school football team for their last regular season game. Very strange. It would be my first time to watch him play and my first game to see since I graduated from high school. My Dad left early with a VERY excited and jersey clad Brighton so he could play around on the field while the team warmed up. As I walked towards the stands, I heard the announcer introducing the parents of seniors, the students and all their accomplishments. The two first names I heard were friends of mine I graduated with………………with their daughter who graduates in a few months. I think that is all I need to say about that. Yow.

My two favorite comments from the night:
My 11th grade English teacher TRIED to tell me that I looked like I was “just out of school” and I promptly told her she needed to wash her mouth out with soap and to come a little closer. After telling her I just turned 38, her eyes got wide and then sympathetic. She placed her hand on my shoulder and said, “Whoooaaa. You are holding up pretty good.”

I spoke to an older brother of one of my friends—are you ready for this? He said, “Krista, you’ve been gone too long. You sound like a Yankee.” Let’s just say, he only revealed that he doesn’t get out much and hasn’t talked to a Yankee in a very long time. Maybe never.

On the sideline with Uncle Blake........talking, of course


My niece, Hunter-- always a favorite, who incidentally played quarterback for the Powder Puff game this week and scored a touchdown!!


We won the game 27 to 14 and RJ had one of his best games ever. He was 9 for 13, passing for 133 yards which included a touchdown pass. Could you hear me yelling here? To make my very fun night even more memorable, I got a small low wave from the side lines from my handsome nephew. I think he even smiled. Truth be told, I would have come for just that- and a hug from Hunter. After the game, he graciously offered for Brighton to come to the locker room with him while he changed. You would have thought he’d asked him to go to Chuckee Cheese.

His half time catches


Still talking.....


The rest of the weekend was full of first experiences for Julia and Brighton like seeing deer in the beds of pick ups, putting a penny on the train tracks, finding out barbed wire isn’t for grabbing hold to steady yourself, eating lunch at a gas station, finding deer antlers in the country (thanks to Uncle Blake), seeing “chufa” (turkey candy) and how it grows, discovering old tombstones in the woods, and seeing zillions of stars in the country where it is REALLY dark.

Needless to say, when it came time to leave for the airport on Monday I had two very “torn” kids. They missed their Daddy but they also knew they would miss their Soperton family too. They were NOT ready to leave. Julia and Brighton spent their last morning chasing cats and trying to put them in a big basket they had filled with pine straw. (I sense a strong need in the near future for some Lotrimin.)

In every way, I left with more than I came. I checked one more bag on the way home than I did on the way there and my heart was filled with even more love and appreciation for the sweet family and friends that are making life in a small town as good as it gets……..anywhere.
Looking for tombstones on the Lothair property

This pastor died in 1869.

Thanks everybody for such a FUN time at home. RJ, I sure wish I could be the "yeller" in the stands tomorrow night. You have no idea how badly. B will have his game day shirt on. Savannah Country Day is in for a big surprise! Go Vikings!!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

October Sky




Last Saturday brought an afternoon from heaven for Brighton’s 5th birthday party. There was not one cloud in the sky and if the sun hadn’t been shining so, Brighton’s perpetual grin would have done the job just fine. He was joined at the park by 8 of his buddies who brought their Dads along just in case they needed some help putting together their Estes rocket. Little did we know, we had invited the rocket wizard, a.k.a. Brett Austin. All went without a hitch at the assembly table.

To my surprise and relief, Brighton requested a chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Since I didn’t have to attempt the caramel icing this year, I didn’t lose a wink of sleep nor did I have to stock up on ingredients to re-make 3 and 4 batches. The only thing I missed was the taste of it in my mouth! (Mom?!?)

(The stress free cake and the 5 year old reaction to the Birthday tune. Every year is different!)
As the theme from Star Wars filled the park, each little guy waited patiently, kind of, for his turn to launch his own rocket. The kids took turns counting down to “blast off” over the loud speaker which turned out to be a most coveted job. Sometimes the numbers were a little off but everyone at least knew “3-2-1- BLAST OFF!!” Once the button was pressed and the rockets were launched, they zoomed higher than I thought possible for eight bucks a piece. The boys recovered all of them after first learning to run with their necks craned upward towards a rapidly and randomly descending target. You would have thought someone had spiked their Capri Suns. Any onlooker that didn’t see the rockets would have been extremely concerned.

The girls he "allowed" at his "boy party". He was pretty happy about it.

How is it that when I downloaded these pictures the night of the party, I couldn't believe how "five" he looked??

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Letter to Brighton, 2008

My sweet boy,
What a job I have today writing your 5th birthday letter! When it comes to wrapping things up, your momma is pitiful. Writing a summary about ANYTHING is not one of my strengths. So, one day, if you ever decide to read this, grab a comfy chair and enjoy.

Up until the day we brought you home, I had never seen
your sister speechless. On October 27th, 2003, your chatty 21 month old sister couldn’t find the words to express her absolute delight in welcoming you into our family. Instead, she just hopped, danced and skipped about your basket beaming for a full 10 minutes—running to hug us and running back to invade every square inch, and then some, of your personal space. Once she found her tongue, she immediately wanted to hold you. It was time to sun your slightly jaundiced and barely 5 ½ pound baby body, so we walked out into a gorgeous October day and stripped you down while she settled into a sunny spot in the green grass. We placed a “blanket- wrapped you” into her uplifted chubby arms and she has been a favorite of yours ever since. Until you were three, she was "mommy" and I was "momma". You were an answer to many of her sweet prayers and ours.

Just the other day, it was your turn to give out the vitamins and as you tried to put your hand in the mouth of the jar I noticed how huge it looked. It was just one of MANY times throughout the year I noticed that my four year old was on his way to five. I am so not ready for you to be five. I don’t like it one bit.

What I do like is to watch you do your favorite things. You love to play any sort of ball. I have seen you shoot your little UT basketball towards a regulation height goal at least 30 times before you made it through the net. Nothing excites you more than to eat a “Brighton- approved" meal. Your “default” activity is to build, build, build whether it be with Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, Dominoes, blocks, books etc. You have a thing for all things “caution”-- “extruction” toys you call them, like road blocks, orange cones, stop signs and anything with that familiar red circle with the line through it. I am not positive but if I had to guess, your favorite thing to do is to play with Julia. You, my second child, never learned to play well by yourself. When I attempt to work on this neglected area of training, after about 20 minutes, I hear your door opening, your bare feet shuffling in the hall way and a few seconds later, your voice trailing down the stairs, “Momma? Can I play with Julia now?”

There are so many unique and special things about you and it makes me wonder which things will still be evident years from now. For now, you are the one who will run and jump off of the dock at the lake and then swim UNDER the dock to get to the ladder only to do it a dozen more times. However, you won’t play with a particular pirate toy in your room by yourself because “it is creepy”. You are the one who loves to share a meal with friends or family in our home. I think you get more excited about that than a play date with a friend. During my "mommy check", you are the one I always find sleeping wedged in the smallest place possible. You are the one who plays Pick Up Sticks with the precision of a brain surgeon. You are the one who still comes to find me in my room when you make the trip downstairs. You always greet me with one of your 1000 watt smiles and a sweet hug. You are the one I find on the stairs with your blanket in the early morning hours. When I ask you what you are doing, you always answer, “I just wanted to know where you were.” You are the one who seeks out my friends in a crowd to speak to them and quite often to give them a hug around their legs. You are the one who will pray whenever asked. Each sentence brings delight to God’s heart, as they do mine, even though they can be quite egocentric. Your prayers remind me of blog entries as you tell God all about your day, what you liked, what you didn’t, and what you hope is different tomorrow (including the food).

Maybe your most noticeable skill is that you have never met a silence you cannot fill. Sweet B, you can talk. Seriously. You fill our rooms, our car, our meal times with non-stop verbage. It really is quite amazing. You talk to Julia through the bedroom walls all hours of the day and night. You even have "fillers" for those times you can't remember what you were going to say. Among your favorites are, "Where are we going in the morning?", "I love you.", and "What are we having for dinner (or breakfast or lunch)?". Your constant need for (my) water makes sense when I think of how many words you can speak in sixty seconds.



Since you have had plenty of practice, you are a pro at expressing the way you feel and communicating your ideas and thoughts. Here are a few of your declarations (and three critical questions):
On certain food: “My tummy is tired of this food.”
On spoiled cottage cheese: “This cottage cheese is dead.”
On using the Target bathroom: From the stall-- “That was my pee pee. Brighton Sanders.” (Marking his territory????)

On hydration needs: “Pizza and chocolate bars make you thirsty. Oranges don’t.”
On getting a spanking: Through tears and a contorted face, “Can we pray about it?”, or “Will you give me grace?”, and always, “How many?”
On Krispy Kreme doughnuts: “This bagel is awesome!”
On someone suggesting a military cut for his hair: “My Momma would NOT be happy about THAT!!” On sleeping (or not?): “I was very tired but I couldn’t keep my eyes closed.”
On future occupations: “A bull fighter or an airplane driver. Either one.”
On playing house: “We are playing wife and honey.”
On having the fidgets: “My brain is not working on this devotional.”

Well, son, if you are still reading, I am proud of you. One, it means I was actually able to teach you to read and two, maybe you really do wind up liking it. Five years have been a blink but YOU have been an eternal joy. I absolutely love being your “momma”. I love knowing the little place on your cheek that doesn’t tan. I love that you talk a lot. I love that you love company. I love that you steal my heart almost every day. I love the way you run. I love knowing the birthmark on your back is shaped like a sea creature. I love that when you get married you want to live in “Evonne’s room” (upstairs at our house). I love that you draw ten pictures a day for me (of a football field). I love that when you pray, you NEVER forget to thank God for “my Dad, my Momma and my sister”. And so, sweet Brighton, I thank God for you. I love you more than you'll ever know. Happy Birthday!


(Last night before you went upstairs to be tucked in by your Daddy, I said, "Come here, so I can hug and kiss my four year old one last time." Once in my arms you asked, "Will you still hug and kiss your five year old?")