Our Lord of Details

I’d shared in a previous post that it’s taken me a while to get into the spirit of Christmas.   I became inundated with all of the depressing news that seemed to surround me at this time.    My uncle died.   My cousin, at 35 years young, is winning the battle, praise God,  against malignant tumors in her brain that have consequently caused her two falls, a broken ankle on one leg, and a broken femur on the other.     As the wave of those events, the general business of this season, and everyday life stresses began to overtake me, the memory of my father’s short battle with cancer 15 years ago at this time, before his death in January 1997, was the near-final weight.    None of this discussion included one of the most unusual Christmas days I’ve ever spent, when my FIL’s rapid decline health wise became obvious to us all.   I talked about my intention to pray, to give, and to remind myself of what this season is really about, and with school out as of last Tuesday, I did just that.     We began to enjoy the Christmas story together on Thursday, and it was interesting that our pastor shared this quote on Sunday morning:

“I truly believe that if we keep telling the Christmas story, singing the Christmas songs, and living the Christmas spirit, we can bring joy and happiness and peace to this world.”
Norman Vincent Peale

Did you ever think about the level of detail that God put into place for the birth of Jesus to happen as it did?

 

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be calledb the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+1&version=NIV

Mary’s quiet suffering is portrayed well in the 2006 version of “The Nativity Story.”    She had no reason to feel favored about her assignment to birth the baby who would become the Savior of mankind.    She was young—a girl who might have been just beginning to be curious about boys.    She had no man; from the movie, you get the sense that she didn’t even like Joseph in that way, but instead that the marriage was about relieving her family of one more mouth to feed.   Moreover, being an unwed mother in a Middle Eastern culture 3000 years ago was far more devastating than the few raised eyebrows that might haunt a young mother in the same plight today.   She was ostracized as if she had a highly contagious disease; others in the community wanted nothing to do with her or her family.    As if that weren’t enough, the very man who claimed her as his wife had every right to lead in her execution—by stoning.    Finally, this was pregnancy and childbirth, with all its discomforts and pains.   Yet, her simple response to the angel’s voice was, “May it be as you say.”   Wow.

Though Mary didn’t know it at the time, the Lord orchestrated so much on her behalf around that simple act of obedience.   I believe that even the moves—first to Bethlehem, then to Egypt—were about giving the couple a fresh start in an area where no one knew their history.   We are told later that Jesus could not perform many miracles when he returned to Nazareth; people knew too much of His past and chose not to believe (Mark 6:4-5).   But, wise men believed, and even decided not to report back to Herod, but to instead go a different way.   Elizabeth believed, and let us not forget the miracle of her own birth and the life purpose of her son John, who was to prepare the way for the Great I Am.  Elizabeth was the first encourager of Mary and a friend and relative who spoke confirmation to Mary’s vision:

 

41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”     

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+1&version=NIV

She needed the prayer covering that Elizabeth and others would provide as she returned to Nazareth.   The Lord had to deal with Joseph and prepare him to face similar ridicule.   He also had to raise a young man even before he became known as the Messiah.    Joseph and Mary needed the visitations from above to divinely lead them away from harm.

I would not begin to imply that the gravity of my own circumstances in any way resemble Mary’s trials, but I did experience the God of details this season.   Though that post was “heavy” and depressing for me and probably moreso for you to read, it was cathartic and the first step on the road back to normalcy for me.   Most importantly, though, I made a decision to focus on Christ and not all the dilemmas that had my attention at the time.     And the Lord moved mightily during this time, showing Himself strong in even the minutest areas.   I was sharing with my husband, and later with my MIL, how it is to think that, in talking to the Lord about everything, “you worry the Lord.”   I’ve actually heard people say that!   He wants us to come before Him with the least of our cares.   He is honored to be involved in the small things, those items that we are arrogant enough to decide we can handle ourselves and “don’t need Him for that.”

As I move forward and into 2012, this is a quiet time for me.   I want to hear from God in the details, to include how to teach the children (both through formal academics and role modeling life lessons), how to minister to my husband and be a good helpmate, and how to develop the products that are mine to create in 2012 for the business.  I also have speaking opportunities where I want the Lord to guide my tongue.    Nothing I wrote would adequately describe my excitement about the Lord’s handling of my details.   I’m praying that you’ll allow Him to step into yours, too.

Fighting the Holiday Funk

My extended blog break–at least this time–is somewhat intentional.   I really wanted to wait until I was mentally in a better place, or at least until I could frame my thoughts differently.   But–that moment hasn’t come yet, and so I write with all the candor that is me, and all the baa-humbug that defines my mood right now.

There is an old nagging feeling that generally comes toward the end of the fall semester, generally around or immediately following Thanksgiving.   For the last two years, I’d escaped it, so much so that I’d honestly forgotten about it.   Yet, this year, here it comes again–burnout.    I began to notice right after the Thanksgiving holiday how increasingly tired and cranky I seem to be, and how much harder it is to complete the everyday tasks associated with being wife and mom.   Forget the non-routine activities that accompany being a church worker, a friend, a business woman or employee.   It’s a lonely place to be in the midst of all the holiday joy that surrounds me.

Don’t get me wrong.   I love the Christmas season, and this year, we’ve actually had cold weather, so it feels more like all the images we generally associate with this time of year.   We’ve had some holiday fun.

 

The youngest was a born star 🙂 , sharing her whole three lines with passion and fervor in the kids’ Christmas play at church.    In all seriousness, there is nothing like the simple praise of a child to remind of what the Lord wants from us all.

I wish I could have looked at those events from a different perspective; from the mind of a weary well-doer, they were quickly diminished into just one more thing to do.

Earlier today I was sharing with our son my own thoughts of the very last pages of Know What You Believe, which speak to the ultimate judgment of every believer and non-believer.   I had written a closing prayer, for lack of a better term, in which my final words were, “a life poured out for You, Lord, a life poured out.”    I thought about what that really means, and it occurred to me that today, I really did feel empty, as if everything had been drained from me.

It’s not just burnout that’s bothering me.   One of my favorite uncles passed away on yesterday after a battle with cancer.   I began to think about his family and how hard it will be each Christmas season as they recall the last memories of their dad.   Then I began to think about my own father, and how it was about this time 15 years ago that he began a very quick descent after an almost undetectable spot of lung cancer found its way to his brain.   He lived only six weeks after we moved him here for more advanced medical treatment.   I hadn’t thought about all of that in many years, but that’s the thing about misery; it looks for justification to be miserable.

As I stopped today to clean out the dead foliage amongst all the flower pots (another sign of my state of “funkiness”), I couldn’t help but think that, the frustration of it all, is that I really don’t like feeling this way.  We have a ministry at our church that assists people who need extra comfort during the holidays, either because of lost relatives or some other memory.   I totally respect that, but I want as much as anyone to enjoy this season and to be renewed before the coming of the new year in the comfort of our Lord, who was born to die so that I might live.    So, with our church’s annual Christmas concert and a couple of parties coming, I’ve been taking some deliberate steps to prayerfully give me a fresh outlook.

1.  I remind myself that there are others who wish they were in my shoes.   These shots of the 2010 Paralympics were a part of our youngest’s current events today; what more measure of blessing does one need?

2. Take the focus off of me.   It’s given me great joy to give to some friends this year who’ve really needed help and comfort.  We’ve had several opportunities to donate time to the church, packing food and decorated grocery-filled boxes.  This weekend, the kids will pick their annual gift to another kid through World Vision.

3. Tap into those holiday traditions that bring me joy.  I missed “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but I plan to watch “The Nativity Story” very soon.   I love the way Mary’s quiet obedience is portrayed in this more recent version.   Amidst all the persecution, she holds to her love of the Lord, and she gains a respect and an eventual affection for Joseph.    Striking up some Christmas music would be the cherry on top.

4.  The two elementals that undergird all of these other activities are prayer and rest, and those are the two things I’ve not done enough.   So, the kids have 8 days of school left, including tomorrow.   We have a couple of parties and one more parade that I’m praying my way through.   We then take three weeks off.    In between now and then, I’m so thankful for family and friends who will call their sister-in-Christ’s name before the Lord.

There it is, and I’m sure it’s almost as painful to read as it is to write.   Nevertheless, it’s where I am, at least for the past week or more.  May my honesty bless someone else who’s looking forward to feeling better this season.   I fell better just writing it, and hopefully getting it off my proverbial chest will be on the road map to getting back to myself.

What I Learned During the Holidays

Fresh off a vacation in which computer time was extremely limited (how ’bout non-existent?), we find ourselves back at home where both laptops are awaiting repair.    Translation?  There are five people vying for the one computer that has access to the Internet.   To put it mildly, I’m learning just how plugged in my family is.   Of course, work takes precedence over all the other fun items, but even that becomes difficult when you have at least one child standing over you saying, “Are you almost finished?”   (Heavy sigh).

In case you’ve not had enough of goal writing, declarations, and reflections (LOL), please be sure to head over to Amy Bayliss and A Woman Inspired for their 31 Days of Online Ministry Event.    There are some great ladies committed to helping us all in the areas of blogging, praise, encouragement, prayer and parenting.    Some of my faves include intentional parenting with Karin at Mommy Matters, Lisa Boyd’s WordPress help (boy, do I need that one!), and 867-5309 Jenny’s (any 80’s fan will immediately appreciate the reference) tips on the use of social media.  

I have asked a question of several business women, especially other working/ home-educating moms, regarding the use of social media, and the implications to being a good steward of time: how are you using these tools to develop your business?   I got very few, if any, responses—hmmm.    One angel was kind enough to introduce me to Hootsuite, a tremendous help in being technologically savvy and present via these tools without becoming a slave to them. Jenny’s first post regarding the use of social media was with respect to Philippians 4:8.   I love this perspective as a starting point.

Karin’s thoughts on intentional parenting have been enlightening as well.  I loved her post on the daily blessing of the children.    What intrigued me most in visiting her blog this time around, however, was the post regarding what she learned in 2010.   I concur with her that 2010 was a year that I’d just as soon not have had, although I know that it was necessary for our growth.   It seemed at times that we were being torn apart at the very seams, and I had to often remind myself of a statement a pastor once made: the Lord will increase your faith by almost destroying it.   

With limited time, I won’t be able to pen all that I learned in 2010.    I thought instead to focus on what I learned in the last month/ during the holidays.    I learned that…

1) Knowing what you believe, and acting consistently upon what you believe, can cure a lot of frustration and angst.

2) I’m nowhere near as technologically savvy as I think I am.

3) The heart of a child, expressed in even the simplest form, can absolutely melt yours.

4) The secret to breakthrough is to worship the Father, especially when you don’t feel like it.

 5) I need to invest in a new camera.

 6) Dogs LOVE “old school” Christmas specials.

7) Having stated #5, the love of family radiates past how it is captured.



1st Semester Progress Report (pt. 1)

I am not sure that I could capture well all that has happened in the last two weeks, friends, but I do hope to document the highlights over the last 1-2 weeks. After all, this blog is the chronicles of our family.

The older two were drafted volunteered to help our church children’s ministry with the annual Christmas play, and the associated practices taken up every weekend we have right up until the weekend after Thanksgiving. Parade season is also fast approaching, as is the beginning of the competition season, so dance has consumed the time that isn’t spent on school and church. I am quickly finding myself in the very position that I don’t like to be in at this time of year—too busy with the season to reflect on the Reason. I refuse, however, to give up that reflective time, and will be saying “no, thanks” to some opportunities that sound, at least on the outside, like great opportunities.

This week finds us unexpectedly on the road. My dear husband was asked to take a trip for week—on the same week as Thanksgiving, no less—and we chose to tag along. Writing while riding takes me back several years to when we traveled like this regularly, before job transfers and job changes. In fact, I’ve seen all but one region of Texas in my 20+ years of living here, thanks to the hubby’s jobs. Some prefer a plane ride (though nowadays that means you enjoy being felt up by strangers), but I love the freedom of the car—plenty of time to kick my shoes off, read, blog 🙂 , or just to sight-see when it’s my turn to drive. We were laughing on yesterday about our earliest work/ family trips when we began homeschooling. The children were small then, and I had to be very creative with meal times as the reality of quitting my full-time job began to settle on us both. I can remember going to vegsource.com and finding recipes like potatoes with chic peas and green onions. It wasn’t fancy, but it was filling, tasty, and most of all, inexpensive. I also recall being stunned at the difference in our lifestyle, and a bit apprehensive about whether the changes were really worth it, but we held hands with all the excitement of fear of brand new homeschoolers. Looking back now, it seems silly to fret so, but I’m so glad that we never gave in to all the uncertainties.

The kids are excited about this week as well, and the fact that I relaxed the schedule a bit, given the trip. They are only responsible for math and reading this week, with a reading day planned for the trip home. Speaking of school, we only have three weeks left in the semester after this one. With the end of the semester approaching, it is always appropriate to assess where we are and whether we are moving in the right path.

The youngest is performing well enough in reading that I’m trying to make a decision as to whether or not to spend money on more formal curriculum to build her reading skills. When I read Bob Jones’ scope and sequence for the 3rd grade reading workbook, there are some areas that she’s not learned—formally. Is it worth it? I think not, but I’m also having to evaluate, for myself, what’s really bothering me about the hole that a lack of formal studies in this area creates. I’m convinced that .what really bugs me—and it’s the same feeling I get watching my son—is that the kids have more free time than I’m comfortable with. That wouldn’t be so bad if they both used the time in productive ways. I’ll sort that out at another time.

The other quandary is what to do with her science studies. She asked to learn about the human body, and I thought it was so convenient that Apologia published a brand new anatomy and physiology text. As my dear friend Kysha says, this was not a good fit for our family. The text is way over the little one’s head, and she now says, “I didn’t know it’d be so gross!” So in trying to get direction from a child, I now realize that I should have followed my first mind, saved my money, and begun with either Zoology or Botany. So, as if I didn’t get enough the first time, I explained to her what I thought about our predicament. She says, “Well, Mom, can we just do two sciences?” Oh, boy.

I pray the Lord is blessing your week(s) as well. More to say, but I’ll stop for now. All the way here, we felt this shake that gradually grew worse. We found out 30 miles outside of town that our mud flap had cut into a tire, causing a slow leak. BUT, we made it, Praise God. He is sooooooo good.

Parade Fun, and Christmas Thoughts

I mentioned in my last post that the dance center’s performance team marched in two parades this past weekend.    For most team parents, this meant getting the child to and from the parade, and (in many cases) standing on the sidelines to cheer the kid on as they performed.   For us, it also meant walking—all five of us—in the parade.   How do we get ourselves into these situations?!!!    Somehow, our knack for offering to “help out where we can” often lands us in some interesting places.   This time, little brother wound up carrying the boom-box of Christmas tunes, dad helped carry the parade banner, and little sister and I walked behind as the first line of defense against the float behind us.   We were too busy keeping up to take any pictures of this, but the oldest was still the headliner.

 

parade; christmas; marching; performing; team

 

For some strange reason, this parade always brings the cold weather.    Honestly, it was 60-70 degrees all week before this parade; the night we walked it was in the 50’s and dropping.    Some of you reading this will laugh that I thought 50 degrees was cold, but bear in mind that we were out in it at night for almost 3 hours, and of all the places for our group to line up, we were right on the water.   The wind chill had to be in the 40’s, so even though we layered up, we still wound up snuggling just to have a chance at staying warm.    Thankfully, someone with more knowledge about how to stay warm over an extended amount of time (her family had a deer lease) brought disposable hand warmers for us all.   I’d never seen these!   They looked too good to be true, but once they heated up, it felt soooooooo good to stick our hands in our pockets and be refreshingly warmed all over again.   The girls were able to muster this shot once we all felt better.

 

 

parade; christmas; marching; performing; team

 

Sunday’s parade was much warmer, but a fog so thick you could cut it with a knife rolled in.   Amazingly enough, the fog didn’t come until after the parade was finished, which meant an interesting walk back to the car.   Yet, the girls were still in a festive mood.

 

parade; christmas; marching; performing; team

 

Walking in a parade or two was great exercise; it also gives an introvert a lot of time to think.   I thought about how good it felt, particularly with everything going on in the world right now, to smile and say, “Merry Christmas.”   Much of what I thought about was a conversation I’d had just the day before with my mother-in-law.    The church where I met her, and subsequently met my husband, has moved past the position of Christmas being too commercialized and secularized.   For the last several years, that church has been on a “there is no Christ in Christmas” campaign.    Much of what the church espouses comes from the perspective that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th, along with the pagan origins of the Christmas tree and the red-suited, “ho, ho, ho” version of Santa Claus that we see all over the stores and television.   So there is no Christmas music (not even Christian songs that are categorized as Christmas music, like “Silent Night” or “O Come, All Ye Faithful”), no encouragement to give gifts or do any of the other traditional things that we associate with this season.    Though much of their perspective is a matter of fact, as my mother-in-law says, it’s never been about a tree for us.   My father-in-law adds that celebrating Jesus, even if it’s technically in the wrong season, is never a bad thing.    I say this knowing that there are whole Christian sects that do not celebrate Christmas or any other holiday.    My mil’s concern, and I think she’s right on target with this, is that Christmas is a wonderful time to minister to the lost, whether you buy into all the traditional trappings or not.   Because of the adamant determination of her church (we left years ago) to depart from what we associate with Christmas, they’ve all but lost the chance to show people Jesus at this time through giving, through sharing, and through loving.    As one example, there was a vendor who donated to her church bicycles.    The bicycles were for children of incarcerated parents.     The leaders of the church actually met to decide whether or not to accept the bicycles, and if they accepted and then distributed the bicycles, would it be a violation of the “Christ is not in Christmas” policies.   Huh?   It sounds a lot like Karen’s comment below that her church stopped having services during Christmas week.

 

 All of this flowed through my mind, and then came throbbing to the front when pastor described us, the church, as the frog sitting in a pot of water that is gradually heated to boiling.   As a child, I remember our school Christmas programs, where the songs mentioned above, as well as others like “Amen” with its lyric ‘see the little baby (Amen)/ lying in a manger (Amen)/ on Christmas morning (Amen, Amen, Amen) were part of the school chorus’ repertoire.    Now those songs are replaced with the more politically correct harmonies about “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”    Don’t get me wrong; Nat King Cole’s rendition of that particular classic is one of my favorite songs of the season, but it will never replace “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”    Our ability to celebrate this holiday is slowly being taken away from us with each expressed “Happy Holidays,” Merry Xmas,” or even the mention of, as one university where I teach says, a “winter break.”    No one denies the right of others to celebrate Hanukkah or even Kwanzaa; this would be the mark of the intolerant.    One of my mantras during this politically correct age is that ‘toleration’ really means that the Christian is expected to tolerate everyone; no one tolerates the Christian.

 

So as I walked with one hand on my six-year-old and the other in the air, my spirit was uplifted as my smile met other smiles and echoes of “Merry Christmas.”    I mused about our traditions and how they’ve developed over the years.   This almost made me laugh out loud.   I reflected upon our earliest Christmases B. C.—before children.     I was so determined that we would have our own traditions, though I had no clue of what they would be.    So with that agenda in mind, I fought my husband’s contentment to go to his parent’s house for the entire day—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—and assuredly hurt my mil’s feelings with such an unsettling, though unspoken, announcement of how her family traditions were changing.   Mind you, it wasn’t as if we were rushing off because we had other plans; we didn’t actually do anything worth remembering when we left her home.   It was simply my way of trying to say that we, the two of us, were our own family now.    

 

Fast forward almost 20 years, much of what we do during this time is geared toward the kids’ happiness—at least that’s the way I saw it.    The teacher in me wants them to learn the lyrics to “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and other popular tunes because they are a part of our cultural literacy—at least for now—so I play our favorite seasonal soundtracks.   We always buy a tree, even if it’s late in the season.   Gifts are always set out on early—oh, so early–on the 25th, as if Santa really did bring them during the night (HA HA).    And though I stopped helping decorate the tree—just didn’t feel like it anymore and the kids were happy to take over, I still enjoy the Hallmark ornaments that I’ve bought over the years—half-price after Christmas is over.

 

I don’t want to be the frog in the pot that doesn’t realize the water’s grown hotter until it’s too late.   If only for the generations that will come from me, I will fight to keep our once-laughable traditions alive.    More than anything else, I’ll make a special effort to say those magical words that are currently threatened with extinction:

 

Merry Christmas.

parade; christmas; marching; performing; team