Welcome to my musings...

After a 3 year hiatus from blogging (too busy parenting teens to have time to write about it!), I have decided to revive my blog. I look forward to sharing my perspective on mothering as I am at the tail end of my child-raising journey. Nothing could be more beautiful, more full of joy and pain and anguish, than the divine calling of motherhood. I pray my musings will bless you on your own journey, and that you will feel encouraged and equipped!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My Favorite Day of the Year

Christmas Eve is my absolute favorite day of the year. From childhood, I have absolutely loved Christmas, and Christmas Eve is my favorite part of the celebration. As a little girl, I loved the anticipation…the going to bed (usually on my cot at Grandma’s house), not being able to sleep because I was so excited, and listening for the tiny clatter of hooves on the roof. When my children came along, that anticipation was revived. My husband thinks I am the biggest kid of all on Christmas Eve. Now, I love the anticipation of celebrating Jesus’ birth and contemplating His return. I love the days leading up to Christmas, as we celebrate Advent as a family. I love the choosing and wrapping of gifts for the people I love, and the traditions that we hold dear in our house. But what I really love…is Christmas Eve.

If you know me, you know that I am a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist. I want to celebrate birthdays on the exact day. I want to bake the same kinds of cookies every Christmas. I want to have special activities that we participate in as a family that don’t vary much from year to year. Each of the traditions that we hold for Christmas have been lovingly and carefully chosen, some continuing from my childhood and some added as we became parents with children of our own. All of them mean something to me, from the most insignificant to the most important. Christmas Eve at our house is filled with tradition…and that is probably why it is my favorite day of the year.

Christmas Eve at our house starts with a smorgasbord of appetizer-type foods, and lots and lots of cookies. This tradition came from my grandparents, who celebrated their wedding anniversary on Christmas Eve by fixing a big spread of such foods, and inviting their dearest friends and family. Growing up, we did this in our home, even in the years we couldn’t travel to be with my beloved grandparents. My children now expect this, and talk for weeks of the upcoming foods (most of which are enjoyed only at Christmas). It’s not fancy, but it’s full of memories and loving preparation. As my grandparents did, we often invite other people to join us, usually people who need a place to feel at home for the holidays, or are feeling alone.

We continue with the reading of the birth of Jesus, often acted out by our children in full costume (dish towels make great shepherd headpieces!). We sing carols, we light our final Advent candle, and we think about the greatest gift ever given. We celebrate the baby, sent to Earth for us, and we pray for His return.

Our favorite tradition is how we celebrate Jesus’ birthday. Every year, we each decide what gift we personally will give to Jesus for the coming year. It might be something we want to do for Jesus, or something we want to change for Him. Even the youngest child in our family will think of something they can give to Jesus, such as sharing their toys with their siblings. We then write this gift on a card and wrap them in a box with a big bow and place it under the tree. Every Christmas Eve, we open the box from the year before and share what our gift was and how God used it in the past year. Then we place our new gift in the box and tie it up once more. Each person is then given a helium-filled balloon and a magic marker, to decorate with symbols or to write something to represent the gift we have chosen. When we are all finished, we go outside underneath the stars, sing “Happy Birthday to Jesus” and release our balloons to heaven. I’m sure our neighbors have often thought we were crazy, but we don’t care--we are celebrating our Lord. And what could be a better Christmas present than that?

Feel free to leave a comment sharing your family's favorite Christmas tradition...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas With Jesus

There is a shadow of grief on Christmas this year. One of my best friends is losing her husband to ALS and my heart aches as I watch her family suffer. It won’t be long now…his kidneys are failing, he’s on morphine for the pain, and his time is running out. My friend is hurting, agonizing over her husband’s suffering, yet agonizing over his leaving as well. She loves him too much to wish his suffering to go on, yet the parting is tearing her apart. She knows that this isn’t the end and that she will be with him again someday, but someday seems so far away.

In the midst of the pain, I think of Christmas. I think of the agony God must have suffered when He decided to send His beloved, only Son down to earth to save a people who would mock him, revile him, crucify him. While the angels were rejoicing at Jesus’ birth, while the shepherds were overcome with joy at the good news, while the wise men journeyed many miles to find this special baby, God was weeping. He knew very well what would become of His precious Son. He knew we would reject him, beat him, and hang him on a cross. He knew there would be a time of separation, followed by a sweet reunion in heaven.

Paul will soon be with his Lord. He will be greeted with joy and with love by the Father who created him and has walked with him through this terrible suffering. Paul will cast off his wheelchair, his pain and his sorrow and walk beside Jesus on streets of gold. He will, at long last, be where he belongs. He will celebrate this Christmas, for the first time, with the One who made it all possible. While we are weeping, and mourning for his loss, he will be experiencing things we can only imagine. While we are celebrating Christmas and longing for the return of Jesus, Paul will be celebrating Christmas with Jesus. And some day, we will get to be there, too, and Paul will be waiting to welcome us home.

I don’t know why terrible things like ALS have to happen, especially to good people like my friend, but I do know that God isn’t absent in all this. He knows our pain, because He experienced it, too, voluntarily. He did this so we could have a home in heaven with him, so we could have peace, and hope, and joy. He is not absent in my friend’s life; He is there with her, sustaining her every day, giving her the strength to face each day and its challenges. He is there, holding her six children in the palm of His hand, storing up every tear that they cry and promising to be their Father. And He will be there, waiting to welcome Paul home as he breathes his last breath. Merry Christmas, Paul…it’s going to be your first REAL Christmas.

“First time to hear the angels sing,
Glory Hallelujah to the Risen King,
and a holy night is what this is,
for this is my first Christmas…”

from “My First Christmas” words and music by Carolyn Arends (c.2000).

A few hours ago, Paul was taken to heaven to meet his Saviour. For him, there is no more suffering or pain or sickness. Please pray for his family during this painful time.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Where Christmas is Found

I have had many opportunities this last week to observe people as they go about their rituals, getting ready for Christmas. Christmas in America has become a crazy merry-go-round of activity, rushing from store to store and from party to party, standing in long lines at the post office to mail gifts to family and friends far away, and participating in children’s programs, plays and dance recitals. This year has been a small oasis of peace for our family, without all the usual activities of Christmases past. My oldest daughter has graduated out of her choir, reducing the number of Christmas activities for us this year. Our dance studio elected to take this Christmas off, giving us three weeks of no dance classes, and no recital this month. While a part of me is disappointed, as I enjoyed all the concerts and recitals and watching my children perform, another part of me is basking in the slower pace this season.

I started my shopping early this year and have finished up well before Christmas. As I went out today to buy my last gifts, I remembered why I like to shop early—there were people everywhere, grabbing and buying and loudly debating if they had to purchase a gift for so-and-so, and if so, what should that gift be. I heard lots of “oughts” and “shoulds” and saw very little joy on people’s faces as they contemplated those people who should mean the most to them. I heard people worrying about money, and how they would pay for what they were purchasing. I saw teenagers spending hundreds of dollars…on themselves, and rejoicing over the great “stuff” they were getting. I saw men buying bigger and better light displays, presumably to one-up the neighbors. I saw cranky children, pointing and whining, “I want THAT for Christmas”.

Truly, it made me sad. I thought to myself, “This is not Christmas.” I don’t believe that Christmas will be found in crowded shopping malls, busy concerts or elaborate light displays. I don’t believe it will be found in fulfilled wish lists, overstuffed plates or hectic parties. But have I seen Christmas this year? Oh yes, indeed I have.

I saw Christmas today as I went to visit my friend who is patiently caring for her husband, who is suffering with ALS. She cares for all his physical needs (which are not insignificant, being that he is on a ventilator now), patiently sits with him and deciphers his difficult speech, sleeps and eats little, and still finds time and energy to love on her six children.

I saw Christmas the other day when I was listening in on my children playing upstairs and heard my youngest ask her older brother if she could borrow one of his video games. The usual reply is “not right now”, and it caught my ear when I heard, “of course you can…you can use them anytime you want.” My heart smiled as I witnessed the spirit of Christmas invading my home.

I see Christmas every night as my family gathers around our Advent wreath to spend a few moments reflecting on the gift given to us at Christmas by our Heavenly Father. I see it in the wonder on my children’s faces, the sweetness of their prayers, the joy in my heart as we read the Scriptures foretelling Jesus’ birth.

Christmas is found in the most unlikely places. It won’t be found in frenzied shopping malls, harried schedules and raucous parties. It is found in the humblest of circumstances, the most hopeless of situations, and the darkest of nights. Where pain and suffering live, that is where Christmas can be found. Jesus came to bring hope to the hopeless and healing to the hurting. He is right there beside my friend, holding her hand as she holds her husband’s. He is with my children as they learn about the true meaning of Christmas and as their hearts fill with anticipation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. He is with each of us, no matter our circumstances, as we enter this most holy of seasons…we only have to slow down, open our hearts and witness the miracle of Christmas.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Christmas is for You

Last year, as we entered the busy ten days before Christmas, I recorded what our family calendar included: 2 choir concerts, 1 church rehearsal & program, 2 parties, 3 dance rehearsals, 2 days of dance recitals, not to mention the activities of normal daily life (teaching, cleaning, shopping, etc.). In talking with others, this seems to be the norm, not the exception. December has become such a busy time for most people that it seems to have become impossible to focus on what is truly important and why we celebrate Christmas. It often becomes so busy, noisy, and stressful that the beauty of what we celebrate goes unnoticed. So, fix yourself a cup of tea and join me for a few minutes as we contemplate the true meaning of Christmas.

Do you ever look at others and think, “Well, sure, they can feel all those Christmasy things like peace and joy, but they don’t have MY life. I don’t have time to breathe, let alone contemplate the deep meaning of Christmas!” Or, “My life feels so hopeless right now, how could I possibly feel joy or peace?” If you are feeling any of these things this year, then I’m here to tell you that Christmas is for you.

Think about the Jews living in Jerusalem or Bethlehem 2000 years ago. They were living under Roman rule, subject to unjust laws and taxes and oppression. They were desperately looking for a Messiah to come and rescue them. They were also living in a period of silence. It had been 400 years since a prophet had spoken to them, telling them of a long-anticipated Saviour. Yet still they hoped, believing He would someday come and rescue them. They were expecting a king to come and save them from their misery and hopelessness. They held on to the words of their prophets and put their hope in a Messiah that they earnestly prayed would come soon.

Then one night, a tiny baby is born in the city of Bethlehem, fulfilling all those prophecies of long ago. Into the midst of their darkness came a bright light, keeping God’s promise to His people. Although their Messiah did not come in the way they thought he should (as a conquering king), God fulfilled all their hopes through this baby who would grow up to die on a cross for their sins, bringing them the hope of forgiveness and eternal life.

This baby not only brought the people hope, but joy. In Luke chapter 1, an angel comes to a young woman named Mary, telling her that she will bear a child, conceived by the Holy Spirit. She is an unmarried woman, betrothed to a man named Joseph. In those times, unmarried women who became pregnant were subject to being stoned to death for their sin. How do you think Mary felt? She had to have been incredibly frightened! She was very young, yet she responded with incredible faith and trust in her God, replying with some of the most beautiful words in Scripture, “I am the Lord's servant.” When she visits her relative, Elizabeth, the baby Elizabeth is carrying leaps for joy in her womb at the presence of his Saviour. Mary responds with an amazing song of praise and trust (Luke 1). Now, I don’t know about you, but I would probably not have responded in this way to the news that I was to bear a child, though a virgin! I think I would have been overcome with anxiety over what my people would do to me or think of me. Yet through all this, God gives Mary peace.

This Christmas, do you need joy, or hope, or peace? The good news is this: Jesus came not only to bring these things to the Jews of long ago, but to you today, in whatever circumstances you are facing. He came to earth as an infant, giving up his rightful place in heaven with His father to come just for YOU. He wants you to come to His stable this Christmas and find him, worship Him and let him give you HOPE of a future in heaven with him. He wants to take your burdens and give you peace in exchange, the kind of peace that makes no sense to us, but is very real indeed. He wants to bring you joy in the midst of difficult circumstances, joy in knowing that you belong to Him and that He loves you beyond measure and that He is coming back to take you home with Him. He wants you to celebrate this Advent season by looking not only to the past and His coming to a stable in Bethlehem, but also to the future, and to long for His coming back and to pray for His return. This year, Christmas is for you.