Thursday, December 31, 2009

In the Making...

December 31st--as I sit on the brink of a new year and ponder what has been and what's to be, I have determined that my life does not fit squarely into the confines of an earthly calendar.

In some ways I long for a clean slate, a fresh start, a new vision.

But in other ways, the new year feels like a bit of an interruption. I am undone. Incomplete. In process. Like a fresh batch of bread dough that has already endured being punched down and is eagerly anticipating rising again, I don't want to start all over.

I want to move forward from right where I am, and I am willing to take a chalky slate, a messy middle, and an evolving vision with me.

2009 has been a year of Transition, Turmoil, and Trust--and if you think I write those words with anything but delight, you don't know me very well. The forecast for 2010 is much of the same. I realize I was beaten up and exhausted by the three Ts from August until October--my "punched-down" period for sure. Those who read my autumnal blog posts know how I struggled. But I no longer feel attacked by the three Ts, I now embrace them as dear old friends.

I am the same lump of dough, but further along in the process. Resting in the Transition. Rising through the Turmoil. Reveling in the Trust.

French Bread. Yes. That is what the Lord is making out of me.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

White Christmas

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you! Isaiah 60:1

Early Christmas morning we arose, and headed up Blacktail Mountain in western Montana to celebrate the birth of Jesus by skiing and snowboarding. Though temperatures hovered in the single digits, our hearts were warmed by the presence of family and the exhilaration of tearing down the slopes at break-neck speeds. Thankfully, despite some pretty awesome wipe-outs, no necks were actually broken in the process.

"Who is that masked man?" you ask? That is Chandler in his new ski mask. Fashion-conscious he is not. Toasty-warm he remained. I, on the other hand, though decked out in my snow-bunny camo, am sporting ice-crystals in my hair. An angelic look for sure, but my face was actually frozen in that cheesy grin.

The ever-cool Graham took advantage of the absence of lift-lines by sprawling out on a chair of his own. Do not be fooled by his calm exterior, with Skillet blaring through his iPod, Graham won the award for the best crash of the day. Landing a jump with the right side of his face was definitely one for the record books. If only I had it on video....

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Things

Christmas Carols are some of my favorite things. I love the traditional ones, the spiritual ones, and even many of the secular ones. But since we have been listening to Christmas music ever since the Thanksgiving dishes were done (thanks for the idea, BG), I have recently become a bit of a Carol Critic. I am not the least bit burned out on Christmas, but the music is starting to get on my nerves! First of all, why do all the American Idol losers make Christmas albums? Not that I don't enjoy Kimberly Locke's rendition of "Up on the Housetop," but I'm not sure the demand for Yuletide Yodeling can support the careers of all the AI rejects.

Even more mind-boggling is the number of Jewish artists (Babs, Barry, and Neil Diamond come to mind) who are crooning carols on every station. Then again, if the Good News is being preached I guess it really matters not who the speaker is. Nevertheless, someone might want to share the Good News with Neil Diamond, who, instead of proclaiming the birth of Christ, has skillfully worked the titles of all of his songs into the "carol" (I now use the word VERY loosely) "A Very Merry Cherry Cherry Christmas." WHAT???? "A Cherry Christmas?" I don't even know what that means! Most disturbing of all is that I actually like that stupid song.

My beloved husband is annoyed by the songs that are played AS IF they are carols when in fact they have NOTHING at all to do with Christmas--i.e. "A Few of my Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music is NOT a Christmas Carol. Never has been, never will be.

And now we have arrived at the point of this post...which is NOT to wax on about the deteriorating condition of the Christmas Carol; but rather, to share with you a FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS that are displayed in my house in honor of the season. Yeah, I know, almost as sneaky as Neil Diamond managing to fit the words "Sweet Caroline" and "Song Sung Blue" into the lyrics of his "Cherry Christmas" song.

These are my boys' stockings--which I made back when both were babies. I crafted them from felt--the fabric for the sewing-challenged-seamstress, and stitched their names on by hand. Since I do not know how to embroider, the stitching is nothing great, full of imperfections, and barely legible. Still, these stockings have hung cheerily by my fireplace for the past 13 Christmases, and they always make me smile!

In the great flood of 2006, I lost most of my Christmas ornaments. So over this past Thanksgiving, my mom (who is a GIFTED seamstress) helped me make these ornaments for my tree. Yes, they are felt. Because GLUE works on felt. And while I am a klutz with a needle, I am a whiz with a glue gun. I LOVE them!

Finally, let me share with you my Nutcracker collection! Each year my dear sister-in-law has added to the grouping, and every year I think I have a new favorite. Each of our parents (Dennis and Williamson) have passed along a Nutcracker of their own, adding a bit of heritage to the grouping. Could you imagine a a more charming army?

What are your favorite THINGS at Christmas?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Are You Content?

A sermon entitled The Freedom of Enough had just ended when Graham turned to me and asked, "Mom, do you think I am content?"

content /kuhn tent/ -adj. 1. satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.

Graham's greatest thrill this Christmas season has been going through the World Vision Gift Catalog and helping us to choose "gift" donations for some of our loved ones. He has not asked for a single thing for himself. Not one thing.

Back when our boys were just preschoolers, we adopted a Christmas gift-giving idea that I read about in Family Fun magazine. The author of the article suggested that each family member receive just three gifts--to represent the three gifts that the wise men brought to Jesus.
  1. The "gold" is an item that the recipient wants (something he or she would greatly treasure, such as a toy or gadget!);
  2. The "myrrh" is an item that the recipient needs (something he or she would greatly use, such as snow boots or a back pack);
  3. And, the "frankincense" is something for the whole family to enjoy together (something in which everyone can participate, such as a board game or movie tickets).
Three gifts. Period. We have been doing this for years and it brings such a wonderful simplicity to our holiday season. Before we started the "three gifts" tradition, I NEVER felt like my shopping was finished. Back in those days I still used credit cards, and I didn't have a clue about the concept of "enough." Now I must be very careful about what I choose for each of my boys. Intentional. Deliberate. Thoughtful. And the boys are truly grateful for whatever they get. They are content.

But then about 6 years ago we added another twist. We decided that every third year we would skip the gifts altogether and take a trip instead. This year-2009-is a travel year, and we will be spending our Christmas in Montana, skiing and visiting family. The travel Christmases are the ones that we enjoy the most! We still put up a tree, watch Christmas movies, bake goodies, and sing carols. None of us feel like we have skipped Christmas when we skip the gifts. It is every bit as joy-filled and fun! Can you imagine a Christmas without the stress of shopping? A Christmas without wish-lists? A Christmas that is focused on memory-making adventures and eternal relationships instead of stuff? Stuff, that--no matter how cherished--will one day end up in a land-fill.

Giving is a wonderful thing. Please do not think that I am against giving in any way. Our Jesus is a lavish gift giver, and as His spirit lives in us, we can't help but love to give good gifts to others. But I want our family to spend the Christmas season with an attitude of gratitude. I want Christmas to be a time of thankfulness for Jesus--whose grace is sufficient for me. HE is enough. HE is my portion. HE satisfies all my desires.

"Mom, do you think I am content?"

"Yes, Graham. I think you are very content."

I hope the same could be said for me.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Far to Go

As I mentioned in the previous post, I spent 14 hours at church last Saturday as the staff support to a team of women who had planned an outreach dessert. Actually, there were two desserts....identical programs, but one seating at 1 p.m. and another at 7 p.m., so as to reach as many people as possible. Both were sold out, with over 200 women at each.

My role(s) were pretty simple. I had the keys to the church, so I was needed to open all the doors that needed opening. And I was the speaker at the event. Actually, the speaking piece was rather minimal, as the main portions of the program were a drama sketch and a 20 minute video in which a dear friend of mine shared her very powerful testimony about the faithfulness of God.
I welcomed the women at the beginning, and then gave them the opportunity to begin a relationship with Jesus at the end.

I arrived at church at 7:45 a.m., after rolling out of bed, brushing my teeth, and throwing on a baseball cap. My plan was to use the shower at church to get dressed and primped for the desserts. Bad plan. A freezing cold shower, no outlets for hair-dryers and flattening irons, and knowing that new security cameras had been installed all throughout the building and NOT knowing exactly WHERE they were all contributed to the distress of that whole experience.
Nevertheless, I made myself presentable in time for the 1 p.m. dessert.

Then I pretty much crashed on a couch in the church Commons. I felt exhausted in every way--probably from the trauma of trying to dry my hair in a preschool bathroom. It was the ONLY bathroom in the entire church with a mirror AND an outlet, but I had to contort my still shivering body to see myself in the mirror because it was designed for use by a three year old, and only came up to my neck.

ANYWAY, it was in this wiped out moment between the two dessert seatings that a man wandered in to the church and asked if there was a staff member around with whom he could leave a letter for the Missions Committee. There were about 5 of us sacked out in the Commons, but I was the only staff member present. Due to an overwhelming case of utter selfishness and an unwillingness to move, I remained silent, avoiding eye contact.

Finally, the guy who was directing the drama sketch for the event kindly jumped up and said, "I can take care of that for you!"

None of us wanted to move, but someone had to DENY himself and get up to help the nice man who had wandered into our church building on a worthy quest.

I was certainly not the someone.

A few hours later, I was on a quest of my own. It seems the main women's bathroom was completely depleted of toilet paper after the first dessert, so I had to use my trusty keys to get into the custodians' closet to find some more T.P. I was struggling to find what I needed, when a pastor from a different department willingly stopped what he was doing to help me. He was no less busy than I (probably more), he had been at church about as long as I had that day (and he does that ALL the time, not just one Saturday a year), and he was in the middle of a task of his own.

Conviction hit my heart like a cast iron skillet. As this pastor handed me rolls of toilet paper, I had to look away so he wouldn't see my tears. His helpfulness was given freely, without even being asked. I, when asked, had refused to be helpful. Man, I have SUCH a long way to go.

I don't think Santa can bring me a six-pack of unselfishness for Christmas, but I am looking to Jesus to help me learn to see beyond myself. I am asking Him to open my eyes to the needs of others and to fill me with an eagerness to serve them--even when I don't feel like it; even when it is inconvenient; even when it costs me something; even if someone else could do it.

He left the luxuries of heaven to save my sorry soul, and I couldn't be bothered to get off the couch to deliver a letter. Forgive me, Jesus. Please, oh please, make me more like you!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Note to Self

Dear Jenn,

Based on your experiences from the past week, here is a list of dos and don'ts to tuck away in that blond brain of yours:

DO trust your husband in all matters of importance, he always takes good care of you.

DON'T ask your husband to buy you tights. Even if you carefully delineate the differences between pantyhose and tights, the finer points of women's hosiery are completely lost on the male mind.

DO agree to teach at the Thursday night women's Bible study at your church. You will always be blessed by those amazing women.

DON'T eat two bean tacos before you go to teach--EVER.

DO budget carefully at all times, but especially at Christmas.

DON'T be surprised when said budget is blown (pun intended) by the need to purchase new snow tires.

DO be thankful for a husband and son who changed a completely flat tire in 10 degree weather in the church parking lot--without getting frost bite on their fingers.

DON'T forget that during Spokane winters a family ought to keep warm clothing with them in the car...just in case someone needs to change a flat tire in 10 degree weather.

DO keep a close watch on the grey tabby cat who thinks your Christmas tree is catnip and the orange tabby cat who likes to use electrical cords as dental floss.

DON'T turn your back on the dog who loves chocolate when almond roca is in anywhere in the house. That nose of hers can smell through a gift bag, tissue paper, and plastic wrap. And she doesn't mind if she gobbles up a little packaging in the process.

DO give the dog Pepto Bismol.

DON'T be alarmed when 20 minutes later she eats Chandler's unattended pancakes.

DO listen to your child's dreams.

DON'T be shocked if those dreams include becoming a rock star, making piles of money, and using it to solve global poverty. ("By the way, mom I'll be needing another guitar, and how do you feel about learning to play the drums?")

DO make the living room the center for all sorts of family activities.

DON'T be dismayed by the constant presence of legos, guitars, amps, bouncy balls, computers, animals, crumbs, books, and homework.

DO hand address 388 Christmas cards.

DON'T plan on having any finger function for 48 hours.

DO spend 14 hours at church helping out at the women's Christmas Dessert.

DON'T plan on using the shower in the Adult Ministries wing bathroom. Besides the fact that the water is FREEZING, it is just plain weird to be naked in church.

DO listen to Christmas music and watch as many Christmas movies as possible.

DON'T be surprised if you start to think and talk like Buddy the Elf.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Weather Forecast

According to the Spangle mailman, the Inland Northwest is going to have a cold but dry winter. He knows this because his wife told him. She knows this because the caterpillars were a different color this year. And now that I know this, I could hardly keep it to myself. The Spangle post office is always the hub for hot news. Remember, you heard it here first.

We're still praying for snow.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

10 Totally Honest Truths

I was tagged in my niece Sarah's blog to participate in the "ten totally honest truths about me" game. In an effort to make it interesting, I will attempt to list 10 totally true things that most of you do not already know about me. Since my life is pretty much an open book, this will, indeed, be a challenge.

  1. I was born in Pontiac, Michigan, but I secretly wish I was a Native Texan, because native Texans are some of the coolest people I know. Since I spent my formative years in San Antonio, I remain an avid Cowboys fan, a collector of James Avery Jewelry, and a lover of the symbolic lone star.
  2. I drove my car at 100 miles per hour just to see if I could. It was about three years ago when driving to Montana with my kids. The boys had to blab to David about it, so he took the car to 110 on the same stretch of road during a different trip--just to beat me. I would try to reach 115, but David doesn't let me drive to Montana anymore. He's just scared I'll beat his record.
  3. I once saw an angel. He looked a lot like Shrek--only he wasn't green and he didn't have horns.
  4. When our house flooded, there were two things that I lost that made me cry: my piano and a cross-stitched nativity with a felt board that my mother-in-law made for the boys when they were babies.
  5. I am adventurous in all things, save one: the selection of ice cream at Baskin Robbins. I always, always, ALWAYS get mint chocolate chip. I sometimes consider getting something different, but I just can't bring myself to do it.
  6. I don't like watermelon. It's has practically no flavor and a totally disgusting texture. It is the only food I don't like. Except raisins. And raw celery. But that's it.
  7. I haven't been to a dentist in 8 years. I brush like a maniac. I floss daily. I hate dentists. BTW, I take my kids faithfully every 6 months. And yes, they are aware of the hypocrisy.
  8. Sometimes (when I am home alone) I eat Nutella directly out of the jar. Othertimes, I eat peanut butter--Jif. Or Mrs. Richardson's Butterscotch Caramel. Or marshmallow cream. And then, of course, I brush my teeth. Well, not really. That was a lie I made up to prevent any of you from suggesting that I see a dentist.
  9. David says I snore. I'll have to take his word for it. But I do find it strangely disappointing to know this about myself. I don't want to be a snorer. On the bright side, I really don't sleep very often, and since I only snore when I sleep (I think), it can't be all that bothersome.
  10. My hips pop.