Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Tree is Down, Hooray, Hooray!

Ahhhhhhh. Christmas was nice this year, and somewhat relaxed. The children enjoyed all the excitement and gifts and sparkle and food, way too much food. Next year I think I’m saying NO baked goods can enter this house from my husband’s coworkers who generously love to bake and share at this time of year. I usually do pretty well not to buy the sweets or bake them myself (okay, I don’t even really like to bake all that much if truth be told), but when he brings all this yummy stuff home, I can’t seem to keep my hands and mouth away from it. Arrgh.

Speaking of holiday treats, I’ve discovered, however, that I do, in fact, like coffee. It’s only taken me 36 years, but I actually like it with lots of hazelnut creamer and Splenda. Or peppermint mocha creamer and Splenda. I actually finally got to try Starbucks while we were in California, and I do see the attraction, though the egg nog latte was a disappointment. Apparently I only like my egg nog plain and COLD. Steamed in coffee was pretty gross. And, though Starbucks was pretty good, I’m not terribly disappointed we don’t have one in town. I like my own much cheaper, doctored coffee at home as well as their quite expensive brew. Except for the gingerbread latte, which was wonderful. (Nod to my friend Heather!)

Anyway, I got the tree down two days ago and the boxes back upstairs yesterday and the pine needles vacuumed and the dining room table back in its normal place. Nice. I love the decorations before Christmas, but I’m really, really glad to have the house back to almost normal today.

I say “almost normal” because we are in the midst of doing some remodeling and moving the kids into different rooms. Very cool thing: my husband is almost done with turning part of the attic space accessed from the bonus room upstairs (the room the boys currently share as a bedroom) into a very large, very nice closet, which the boys have not had up to now. Also cool: some good friends of ours gave us their son’s bed frame since they are redoing his room now that he’s getting older. It is a bunk bed with a twin bed on top and a full size futon on the bottom. We have decided that we are going to finish that closet space upstairs, move Boo into the bigger downstairs bedroom that has functioned as a very messy playroom/catch-all kind of room and let M have her old room with his new bed. We’re going to find him a dresser and find either a Captain’s bed with drawers underneath or a small dresser for J and he’ll keep the upstairs room with the understanding that part of the room will still have to be kept clear for little brother to come up there and play with the shared toys, too. This arrangement will allow us to split the boys up and allow them a little space to themselves and also to have a bed for guests when needed. We found a small used desk for $15 that will also go up in J’s room so he can study and do his homework in his own room without the distraction little brother and little sister usually bring to him.

I’m already dreaming color schemes for Boo’s room and M’s new room. Now that we’ve told the boys what we’re planning, they have been more motivated to clear out the playroom and help me decide what toys we can give away and what is throw away. They are ready to have their own space.

So, though I don’t really make resolutions, I suppose a major New Year’s type of goal for us is to get the junk in the playroom cleared out and organized and manage the transition as soon as we can get all that done. If you've read this blog for very long, you probably remember that I am not a very motivated decorator. It is hard to spend money we don't really have on that kind of thing and I don't have much of an eye for knowing how to nicely furnish and accessorize the house on a tight budget. I’m very impressed with Drew’s work up there in that new closet space, however, and it is helping me to get motivated to finish the organizing. I am beginning to see the possibilities.

So, slowly we are getting the house the way we want it. Order is slowly being made from chaos. As I examine my own heart, I pray the same is true spiritually. On the pilgrim path of sanctification, I find that I am extremely aware of my own wretchedness. The Lord is so very patient with me. I look back over the past several years, and I can see areas He has pruned and taught me and allowed me to grow, but on examining myself, I see so much still needing to be pruned away. Once again I need to remind myself of the verses I wrote out in this post. Sometimes it is discouraging to look back at things I have written many months or years ago and find I have not grown nearly as much as I would have liked in certain areas when, at times, it seems that I write about the same struggles over and over again, and, like Paul, I find I am doing what I do not want to do and not doing what I long to do. I want to have a mind that is more and more like Christ and less and less like the world. I want to learn to focus my heart and mind on Him and to live a life that honors Him. (Carla had a good post about this today, by the way.) I want to continue to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. I am thankful for the desire to press on that He has placed in my heart. This is what I am thinking about as we prepare to close out 2007 and enter 2008.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Greeting

I want to take a moment to say Merry Christmas to everyone who reads my blog. Whether you are family and friends I know and love in real life or you are someone I have not had the privilege of meeting except through our blogs, I appreciate that you take the time to read my ramblings from time to time. I especially thank those of you who have taken the time to comment or e-mail once in a while. I hope you all have a wonderful time with family and friends as we celebrate the grace and mercy and hope we find in knowing Jesus and worshiping Him. I am so glad to have come across so many sisters and brothers in Christ from so many different places through this hobby of blogging. Grace and peace as we worship our King!

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." John 1:1-5

"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." John 1:12-13

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

"Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" Luke 2:14

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Hark the Herald Angels Sing....

*This is a repost from December 17, 2006, but it still illustrates my thoughts about Christmas, and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing in particular. In fact, maybe it is even more appropriate this year as I was just thinking yesterday that if I had to hear Silver Bells one more time I thought I might scream. Last night I got my husband to go with me to the store to find some new Christmas music because I was also tired of the Manheim Steamroller CDs I've been playing over and over and I realized I don't have any good recordings of true Christmas carols that actually celebrate Jesus. I'm enjoying one of my new CDs right now as I finish up baking cookies for the boys to decorate this afternoon. Merry Christmas!

There is a local radio station that is playing Christmas songs 24 hours a day until Christmas. I've been listening off and on for the past several weeks, and I'm struck by how many secular Christmas songs there are. It's not unusual for several hours to go by with no mention of Jesus - the One who this season is really all about. And I don't really expect any different from a secular station.But. Here's the thing. As I'm listening to these nonreligious, inoffensive (well, inoffensive to some, anyway) songs, I'm struck by how empty Christmas must be without a Savior. It's just so much schmaltz. And it's just so much anticipation and build up for one day. What a let down! I don't have anything wrong with some of the songs in and of themselves, really, and even like some of them. It's just that the real Christmas is so much better!That's why we, in our family, don't "Santa." It doesn't bother me what other families do or don't do about that, but we don't, because for us, Christmas is about Jesus and the majesty of what He has done and Who He is, and I don't like to cheapen those thoughts with Santa and all that. I'm not all weird about it, we just never really did the Santa thing with the kids and it's just not part of the traditions that we're laying down.

Anyway. After listening to these schmaltzy songs and cutesy songs, I'm focusing now on a song that I think is absolutely FULL of doctrine and praise for Christ's majesty. THIS is a good Christmas song!

Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild;
God and sinners reconciled."
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With angelic hosts proclaim,
"Christ is born in Bethlehem!"

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

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

While I was thinking about this song, I got out my Bible and looked up just a few of the scriptures to which it alludes.

Luke 2:14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"

Isaiah 7:14 "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel."

Matthew 2:6 "But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel."

Colossians 1:15-23 "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight - if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven"

Colossians 1:26-27 "the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."

The majesty of Christmas becomes more real the more we focus on Christ. And as we focus on Christ Jesus, it is not just His birth, but His life, death, and resurrection, the very thing that reconciles us to God, that ought to bring us to our knees in adoration of the King. And, I am growing very convicted that I'm not nearly concerned enough about my neighbors who only know the schmaltzy Christmas and do not know the Savior. I once heard John MacArthur say in a sermon that we witness to others in order to see more voices added to the great "Hallelujah Chorus" of praise to God. I pray that this would become my passion as well.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Fun Friday Photos

These are a few of the fun things the kids have been doing this month:

M was a sandgnat in his school play, which was a take off on the twelve days of Christmas using local and state emblems for the 12 gifts. We had a cute little wren in a palmetto palm, two sea turtles, three football players from the local high school, four boaters, five proud Marines, six diving dolphins, seven shrimpers, eight of our school mascots learning, nine crabbers, ten tourists shopping, eleven sandgnats and twelve shaggers dancing. It was all very cute. Here's M as a sandgnat (I told you those pesky things were a big deal around here!): Update - I wasn't trying to say that M is pesky! Just the real sandgnats!!

J had his first piano recital last night. He did very well, and we're proud of him. It was only he and another student, so it was nice and small, which is probably good for the first time. Here he is at the piano:

And this is our little Christmas cutie, Boo, in her pretty dress. She will NOT leave the tree alone! And the camera angle and small stature of the tree make it look like she is one huge toddler, but she's really not!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fix Our Eyes on Jesus

I love Christmas. I don’t love all the hustle and hurry and angst over the last minute shopping, shopping, shopping, hustle and perfectionism in decorating and baking, and the relentless scheduling of all the parties and plays and perfectionism and whatnot that can sap the joy and meaning from Christmas, however. I don’t love the lines and crowds and cranky shoppers. I don’t love my tendencies toward materialism that make it so hard to tone down the gift buying and giving. I love to give gifts to my children that I know they will really enjoy getting, but I do not want them to think it’s all about the presents.

In the midst of all the “stuff” of the Christmas season, it is far too easy to get all caught up in the secular, materialistic side and lose sight of what we are really celebrating. I struggle with that every year.

Not long after I was married, when we still lived in Gainesville, FL, I used to work with a lady who was a Jehovah’s Witness, and, for some reason, she seemed to have taken me on as a witnessing opportunity. For one thing, she was an amateur photographer who had been asked to photograph some weddings, and, knowing that I had just gotten married a few months before coming to work there, she asked me if she could see my wedding pictures. Of course I was happy to bring them to share with her. Well, in our wedding, we had placed around the sanctuary some beautiful banners that the church had made that had some of the names of God on them, with the “Jesus” banner at the front. Those banners were the catalyst for some interesting conversations with this coworker about how we talk to God and what we call Him and why.

Several months later she handed me a copy of the “Watchtower” with an article tagged and told me she’d like to talk to me about it. Well, I prayed and asked for wisdom for about a week and studied my Bible, looking up everything I could find about Heaven and Hell because that seemed to be what she was going to be focusing on before we met for lunch one day. During the course of that conversation, we got to talking about Christmas. She made a comment that has stuck with me all these years. She said, “Well, why celebrate Christmas? He hadn’t even done anything yet at that point. He was just a baby.” And I answered, “Oh, but, you see, He had already done a great deal at that point!” Think about how God had caused the virgin to conceive and that Jesus is God in human flesh. Of course, she does not believe this, and really this is the crux of our differences, is it not?

We talked about many other things that day, and I’m very thankful for the way the Holy Spirit brought things to my remembrance and enabled me to give a defense for the hope that is within me, but every Christmas I still think about that comment that He hadn’t even done anything yet, and I pray for that woman, though it has been years since I have seen her. The most mysterious, incredible, awe-inspiring thing about Christmas, to me, is that God would come to earth and take on human flesh as a baby and live among us, Immanuel, God With Us. That never ceases to bring tears to my eyes and a sense of wonder and awe. That He would love us when we were so unlovable, and make a way for us to be reconciled to God and cleansed of our sin by fulfilling the Law and prophecy, enduring the cross and rising again on the third day is something I never want to be flippant about. How amazing that He would do such a thing. So, the fact that He was born of a virgin, born to die, while the angels singing at His birth to a group of lowly shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem guarding the Passover lambs pointed their attention to the One who would be the true Passover Lamb and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” is a glorious thing to celebrate. We celebrate, not only because He was born and placed in the manger, but because we know the rest of the story. We celebrate because He is the Savior who came to take away the sins of His people. And this is something infinitely worth celebrating every day of the year, not just on December 25.

I have been listening this week to John MacArthur preaching about Christmas, and if you haven’t been hearing this series, I would encourage you to look at the Grace to You website and listen, you can hear the quote below in the context he said it, but I really wanted to share this from today’s broadcast:

“His name is not Jesus, Immanuel, King, Christ because He’s our example. His name is not Jesus, Immanuel, King, Christ because He’s our teacher. His name is not Jesus, Immanuel, King, Christ because He’s our guide. His name is not Jesus, Immanuel, King, Christ because He’s our friend. He is all that. But His name is Jesus because He saves us from our sins. His name is Immanuel because He is our sympathizing strengthener, He is God With Us. His name is King because He’s our sovereign and the sovereign of the universe. And His name is Christ because He is the source of our life. And when you know all that, and when you believe all that, and when you confess all that, then you have seen through the trappings to the simplicity of the birth of Christ. That’ll make your Christmas significant, really significant. If you’ll do what Hebrews 12:2 says: fix your eyes on Jesus, King Jesus, Christ Jesus, Immanuel, it ought to make it the greatest Christmas for you, too.”

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Baked With Love

My son said that he thinks his mom makes the best cupcakes in the world. Poor child. He doesn’t realize that I only ever make them from cake mixes. But the fact that he likes my easy little cake mix cupcakes better than store bought beauties says something besides the taste, I guess. I think it’s the fact that I actually baked them just for him to take to his Christmas party at school that he likes. And that’s priceless. But I still can’t help wondering what he’d say if I ever took the time to make him some real, from scratch cupcakes. If I didn’t have fifteen pounds still to lose, I’d make my mom’s One, Two, Three, Four Coconut cake that takes 3 days or so to make but is absolutely delicious. Then again, once he tastes that, his love for my easy bake cake mixes might just wane. I think we’ll be easy baking this Christmas. I wouldn’t want to have to up the bar for future cupcake needs, you see.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Iniquity of Us All

One of the many things I love about my husband is that he enjoys history and we will often go out of our way on trips to see interesting things that have historical significance. We once drove a very scenic route through Louisiana while en route to taking him to a 3-month training in San Antonio, TX not long after we were married so we could stop at a plantation house that was listed on the National Register. Another time, I don’t even remember where we were actually going, but we went quite a few miles out of our way while driving through Georgia so we could stop at Andersonville, the infamous Civil War prison. So, when we decided to visit San Francisco, it was pretty much a given that we would be visiting Alcatraz at some point. I found that it was fascinating, but profoundly sad to me.

When you buy your ticket for the ferry to the island, they include the option of an audio tour of the prison once you are over there. The narrators on the tape are men who were once guards there and also some men who were incarcerated as prisoners when it was still a federal penitentiary. It was sobering to look at those tiny little cells and think about someone being locked in there for years and years, and even more sobering to think about what those men had done and the laws they had broken to land themselves in such a place. At the very end of the audio tour, we were standing in the large room that had been the dining hall and facing the door through which we were free to walk away at any time we chose. A former prisoner talked about having been incarcerated in Alcatraz for 15 years and then, after serving his time, being set free. He talked about how the whole world had changed and how he stood there on the street looking at all the people who had been living their lives totally unaware of the life he had been living in that little cell and how frightening it was. He said he had no idea what to do now. Even so many years later, his voice was so sad, and so plaintive that I stood there with tears in my eyes listening to that recording.

As we were leaving, Drew and I were discussing how Alcatraz is such a grisly picture of the total depravity of man. We all have the seed in us to act out that depravity. And just the fact that such places are needed to separate those who break society’s rules should be a sobering reminder that we are all sinners, and each of us is capable of terrible thoughts and actions and prone to sin. When my husband was in Bosnia a few years ago, he was deeply struck by how quickly a civilized people can lose their civility. Yugoslavia used to be a very cosmopolitan society where the different people groups lived together in relative harmony until the war began. In fact, there was a joke about the different religious groups fighting that was funny to people at the time because it seemed so absurd that there would be that kind of fighting there. Not many years later, humor became horror as the ethnic and religious groups broke into civil war. Now, what used to be nice hotels are pock-mocked with bullet holes, many homes and buildings are damaged by repeated bombings and the fields are treacherous places filled with land mines. Gone is the civilized country where the Winter Olympics were once held in Sarajevo, and no longer is it a nice place for tourists to visit. Now it is a place where peacekeeping troops are necessarily patrolling in full military gear, and my husband received the added “hazardous duty pay” while stationed there for a year. We’ve talked about how quickly people can give in to the baser nature that is in all of us.

My children are very concrete minded and they want things to be cut and dried, black and white, easily defined. They are constantly asking me if someone they hear about historically or on the news is “good” or “bad.” For example, J often asks if the South were the ‘bad guys’ and the North the ‘good guys’ in the American Civil War. It is so hard to get through to him that life is much more complicated than that. I have told him that there were good and bad people on both sides, and most were fighting for what they really believed was right. In retrospect, I believe the right side won that war, but there were individual horrors acted out by people both sides along the way and there were equally good and kind and heroic acts by people on both sides as well. It is always this way. Ultimately, we are all bad, if one really wants to press the issue. Some of us just live out our depravity more openly than others, but we all have that seed of a sin nature that mars us.

The nickname of Alcatraz is ‘The Rock.’ I’ve been thinking about that. What a lonely, frightening thing it must have been to arrive there and hear, “Welcome to the Rock,” knowing that you were facing a punishment you deserved and feared. One of the prisoners who spoke on that recording said that in those days he had been so filled with hatred and how awful it was. I wish I could have heard his story, to know how things had changed for him now and why.

While thinking about ‘The Rock,’ I began thinking about Romans 9:33 which says, “As it is written: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’” Though ‘The Rock’ of Alcatraz served its purpose as a deterrent to crime and as a place to punish and separate from civilized society those who broke society’s rules, it could not, ultimately heal the true problem of their inborn sin nature. It may have served to rehabilitate some back into civilized society, but the only real hope for people who are so far gone that they have committed the crimes that would land them in an Alcatraz is to come to know repentance and the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And those of us on the outside of such institutions have that same need just as desperately. That is our deepest need. Though not all of us will ever commit the kind of crime that would draw the judgment of our government and society, every one of us deserves judgment and wrath. Every one of us stands wanting before Almighty God, even those who my kids would say are ‘good.’ No matter how ‘good’ we may seem, there is none that is righteous, no not one. Unfortunately, those who are on the outside enjoying their freedom often do not as readily see that need. So many do not realize that they are in spiritual bondage to sin and prisoners every bit as desperate as those men who inhabited those cells. Standing there in that prison, with tears in my eyes, listening to the hopelessness that man expressed, I was reminded that we all approach God’s throne in rags. I am amazed at the grace which exchanged my filthy rags for the righteousness of Christ, and that He alone makes me to stand faultless before the Throne. Jesus, the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone, the Rock of Ages cleft for me. I am humbled and awed at such grace.

Isaiah 53:4-6
“Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

Friday, December 14, 2007

From Sea to Shining Sea

What a nice vacation Drew and I had! Last Friday morning we took off from Savannah, GA, and after an hour and a half layover in Atlanta (you can’t go many places from here without a stop in Atlanta!) and a long four hour flight we arrived in San Francisco, CA that afternoon. I had never been to the West Coast, and, boy, were we in for some breathtaking sights! The mountains that surround the area right up to the sea were the biggest thrill for me to see, having grown up in flat, flat, flat Florida with sandy beaches. The cliffs and mountains and rocky beaches were stunning. And one of the coolest things, I thought, was the sea lions! I LOVED seeing and hearing them barking away right there on the dock near the place we ate lunch that first day.

We spent the weekend in San Francisco enjoying being tourists riding the cable cars, being amazed at the steep roads built right up the mountain, looking for sights from Monk’s show, visiting Alcatraz and the piers and, of course, Fisherman’s Wharf and eating sourdough bread. We made sure to eat at an In-N-Out while there, too, since we’ve heard how good their burgers are from a friend who grew up in California. We took a whole day doing some whirlwind sightseeing in the area, driving over the Golden Gate bridge and beyond, making our way through Napa Valley and going to visit Snoopy at the Charles Schultz museum in Santa Rosa then over to Fairfield where we took a tour of the Jelly Belly factory – very fun! My Christmas shopping is finally done, too. Half the fun for me this trip was finding interesting things for the kids in the shops at all the touristy places we went. Driving back into San Francisco over the Oakland Bay Bridge that evening was something else. If traffic is that congested and crazy on a Saturday evening, what in the world is it like during rush hour on weekdays? I don’t even want to know. There are benefits to living in our small town.

After our long weekend in San Francisco, we spent the rest of our time in Monterey. That was a nice, relaxing time, too. Sea lions everywhere at the wharf! I loved it. We also took a whale watching tour that went out about 6 miles into the Pacific and saw otters, sea lions and a mommy humpback whale with her calf. We got to spend about 30 minutes watching that mommy and calf and it was the coolest thing – well, cool until the rocking of the boat in the waves was too much for my stomach and I had to sit and fight off sea sickness for the rest of the trip. But it was still an incredible time to see God’s interesting creatures.

One afternoon we drove the 17 mile drive through Pebble Creek along the coast there and then went on down to Big Sur. Talk about gorgeous scenery. I don’t even have words to describe the beauty of those mountains and the ocean. Right before sunset, we hiked down the mountain on a long, steep, winding path to a little beach area and watched the sun go down over those huge waves and rocks. The dangerous beauty of those mountains and cliffs is so different from the beaches we have here on the East Coast, and a breathtaking reminder of the wonder of God’s creation. Along the way back to Monterey, we stopped at a cutoff on the road and looked down the cliff where there were tons of sea lions barking and we listened to their barks echoing up the cliff for a little bit. Drew took some video of it so we could show the boys, and if we can figure out how, I might try to share it on the blog eventually.

As much fun as we had, however, I really missed the kids. Every day we’d look at our watches and add three hours and speculate about what they were doing right then. We called home every day, and they did very well with Gram and Grandad, but I know they missed us, too. It was a blessing knowing they were in good hands with their grandparents, though, and we didn’t have to worry about them, but, six days is a long time to be away from them and I was so glad to see them again yesterday morning. I was so worried that Boo would be stand-offish with us when we got back because six days is a really long time for a 19-month-old, but she’s been extra cuddly since we’ve been back. She keeps bringing books to me and wanting to crawl in my lap to read. I just stop what I’m doing and read to her, because it’s just so sweet that she wants to cuddle and I think it is her way of making up for the time she was missing us. The boys have been asking tons of questions and we had a great time showing them our pictures last night. They seem most enthralled with hearing about Alcatraz and I’m thinking maybe I should have paid closer attention to the details on our tour there because they are just full of questions!

I’m sure I will blog more about our trip because I have lots of reflections about it all, but for now, I have got to get my laundry done and get back into the routine of being home. That three hour time difference is a doozy, and I’m still getting my body clock readjusted to home time. Oh, and there are currently 112 unread blog posts in my Google reader, so it's going to take me a while to get caught up with my blogging, anyway - and that will be after I get caught up in my 'real life' things around here. That's the hardest part of vacation - coming home and taking care of all the undone business that keeps piling up when you're gone. But it was worth it!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

What Are Your Favorite Christmas Things?

My husband and I are getting ready to take a mini-vacation, just the two of us, to celebrate our 14th anniversary (which is actually on December 18). We haven’t had a trip like this since the boys were just little, so we’re very excited and very appreciative of his parents’ willingness to stay with the kids and give us the opportunity to spend some time alone together. I've never left Boo overnight like this, so I'm kind of nervous, and the boys are a little nervous to have us leave, too, but we are looking forward to this trip. One of the perks of my husband's doing so much traveling with the Army is that, since he flew commercial airlines, he was allowed to collect the frequent flyer miles, so we got very cheap tickets. I’m sure I’ll have pictures from our trip when I get back to blogging again, but the blog will be quiet for a few days.

In the meantime, I thought I would leave something fun and hopefully interesting. This has been popping up around the blog world this week. I lifted mine off my friend Heather because she had some extra questions from an e-mail version her friend had sent her. I’ve compiled them together and answered the ones I want to answer. Blogging slump averted for today!

Christmas Meme

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Usually wrapping paper, but sometimes it’s just easier to use a gift bag when the gift is a strange size. I’m not the best wrapper in the world, and I usually don’t remember to put bows on the packages, either, but they are at least wrapped, even if they aren’t up to Martha Stewart craftiness snuff- far, far from it.

2. Real tree or artificial? Real. We love the pine smell and the fun of going to pick one out. There is a cut-it-yourself tree farm near our house, but the last few times we went there we always ended up with too big a tree. It’s hard to judge when you’re standing out there under the open sky, and the tree looks much smaller until you get it into your living room! Think Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation…..The last couple of years we've gone to a lot where the trees are already cut. They have a humongous inflated snowman and the kids love going there.

3. When do you put up the tree? Usually the first weekend of December. My husband usually has Army Reserve drill that weekend, and we get the tree when he comes home Sunday evening. The tree may not be decorated that night, but within a day or two it is.

4. When do you take the tree down? The day after Christmas if I can get away with it! I love the buildup to Christmas, but once the gifts are opened, I’m ready to have my house back to normal. I like to have the tree down within a few days of Christmas. I once went to a birthday party for one of the boys' friends and that family still had their tree up in February! That was so depressing to me, let me tell you. I'm climbing the walls at my house if it is still up by New Year's Eve.

5. Do you like eggnog? Yes! So do the boys, but my husband doesn’t.

6. Favorite gift received as a child? There were lots. But two I remember right off the top of my head at this moment were a play kitchen one year that I really liked and a stereo (with a record player - anyone remember those??) one year when I was older.

7. Do you have a nativity scene? Yes. A couple of years ago, my mother-in-law gave me the Willow Tree nativity set and it’s on our mantle, having replaced the one we had used for years that I didn’t like as well. I’d like to add pieces to this set, but have too many other things I need to buy this year, so that will have to wait.

8. Hardest person to buy for? My parents and my husband’s parents. We often give gift cards to places we know they like, so they can pick out what they would like or eat someplace special.

9. Easiest person to buy for? My kids.

10. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? I really don’t remember a worst gift. As a mom, however, I hate how any toy the kids get is so hard-wired into the box you about need a screwdriver and some dynamite to get it out. And, forgetting the batteries that are not included is not fun, either.

But, since you weren't asking, you know what I told my husband would be my dream gift? I wish I had someone who could come in and tell me how to decorate our home with those special added touches and matching furniture and organize our storage of stuff (especially kid stuff) in a way that would be lovely yet would not break our budget. That would be nice. I'm totally dreaming, but it would be nice!

11. Mail or email Christmas cards? Mail. I’ve got my letter written and I’m waiting on our picture – should have it this week, I hope. I love hearing from friends and family and seeing the pictures and hearing their updates.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie? A Christmas Story – funny! My husband likes Christmas Vacation. We all like Charlie Brown, too.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? I hate, hate, hate to shop. But I try to get it done early, because I hate dealing with the crowds more. I didn’t make it this year. I’ve got the main things for the boys, but I still have to get everyone else’s. Where has the time gone?

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Not that I can recall.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Cinnamon pecans, cake, cookies, chocolate………..This is why losing weight is so hard.

16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? Clear. I don’t like the colored lights anywhere, though one year I did relent and let my husband put them in the branches of the palm trees out front and had to admit they didn’t look too terrible. This year, there was a light out on the tree, and M found a blue bulb to replace it with, and that one blue light among all the sparkly clear ones drove me nuts. I finally said something and he offered to find a clear one. Lovely child.

17. Favorite Christmas song? O, Come, O Come, Emmanuel; Oh Holy Night; Joy to the World; What Child is This

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Stay home.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? Only if I sing the Rudolph song.

20. Angel on the tree top or a star? Star.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? One the night before, everything else in the morning.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? Busyness and cranky people in the stores and letting myself get overwhelmed when I really would rather make it a more worshipful event. The temptation to buy more stuff rather than keep it simple for the kids is immense, but I don’t want Christmas to only be about the ‘stuff,’ and I want my kids to remember the wonder of the fact that Jesus is the Word made flesh and has come to save His people from their sins.

23. What I love most about Christmas? The music and lights and sparkle, and the wonder of contemplating God’s amazing grace. I love reading the Christmas story to the children and reminding myself. My favorite is the account of the wise men and how they saw His star in the east and came to worship Him, and I cry every time I read about Simeon in the temple praising God because he had seen the Messiah.

24. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? I have to choose??

25. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? We don’t really do the Santa thing. The kids have stockings, but they know it comes from us, and if there are presents too big to wrap they will appear under the tree Christmas morning. This year all the presents are staying put away until Christmas Eve because Boo is into everything, and I want to have a peaceful Christmas season!

26. Do you hang mistletoe? I have a fake mistletoe ball, but I don’t always hang it.

27. When do you put up your decorations? Same day as our tree, whenever that is. I have to mention here that I am decorationally challenged. I don't seem to have the gene necessary to be able to look at a room and know how to put those pretty little touches in just the right places to make our home look lovely. Our home is functional and comfortable, but I'm something of a failure when it comes to knowing how to accessorize. I do marginally better with Christmas decorations, but only marginally.

28. What is your favorite holiday dish? Acorn squash casserole, pumpkin pie, and my coconut cake, but I probably won’t be making that one this year – way too rich and fattening when I’m trying to lose 15 more pounds.

28. Favorite Holiday memory as a child? One year we were waiting for Grandma and Grandad to arrive, and my mom had made a crockpot filled with chili cheese dip and other goodies were waiting so we could eat when they came in. My brother and I kept wandering into the kitchen and nibbling on that cheese dip and chips. We loved it. My other one isn’t so much a memory as a story I’ve been told for years since I don’t actually remember it. When I was about 5 and my brother was about 2, my parents have told me that at about 11pm I came dragging my sleepy brother into the living room thinking surely it must be Christmas morning. After all, I’d been asleep and was now awake, so it must be time, right? They hadn’t even finished putting out the presents and had to put us back to bed. For some reason, it has always stuck in my mind that this was the year I got that play kitchen I mentioned on another question, but I may just be lumping those two memories together.

My favorite memory as an adult is that we were married one week before Christmas, December 18, 1993. Beautiful wedding, and wonderful husband!

29. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? We didn’t really do much with Santa growing up. I knew the stories, but never thought he was for real. We decided not to do much with Santa with our kids, either, though people seem to think we are weird because of it. Jesus is just so important we didn’t like mixing Santa into our Christmas traditions, at least not to lie to the kids and make them think he was real only to disappoint them later when someone told them he wasn’t. In fact, I hated the movie The Polar Express. It is just depressing to me that Santa is all there is to Christmas for so many people, and that is what it is becoming as Christmas becomes more and more secularized. The wonder of Christ’s Incarnation is so precious and fills me with such awe, that that is where I want my focus to be, so we pretty much ignore Santa.

30. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Not usually, but the kids do.

31. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? White lights, silver star on top, silver balls, my favorite ornaments near the top and the kids’ ornaments near the bottom.

32. Snow! Love it or Dread it? Love it! I only got to live in it one year, and loved that quiet sound it makes when it falls at night and how the whole world seems to glow on a snowy night. I did NOT like driving in it – especially since it was my first experience driving in it and my husband was half a world away in Bosnia that year.

33. Can you ice skate? Barely, but the last time was a long time ago in an ice rink. I would probably break something if I were to try it in the open on a pond or something.

34. Do you remember your most favorite gift? Getting married to my best friend and celebrating that every December.

35. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you? Jesus and thinking about and remembering His great love and mercy and grace.

36. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? Coconut cake (made the way my mom taught me!)

37. What is your favorite holiday tradition? We have a birthday cake for Jesus with little angel candle holders my mom gave me that we had used when we were little.

38. Which do you prefer giving or receiving? Giving.

39. Candy Canes? Not my favorite, but melted in a cup of hot cocoa they are wonderful! Now that I’ve learned to like coffee, I may try them melted in coffee this year, too.

40. Do you feel Christmas is too commercialized? Absolutely. No question about it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Kid Quote of the Day:

"Sometimes it seems like I can think better with my shoes off."

Monday, December 03, 2007

A Post In Which I Ramble Aimlessly For a Bit and Then Come to a Stop

Or: Just a Few of My Thoughts About the Movie One Night With the King and Some Other Things

Actually, these are just my $0.02 and some other random thoughts after having rented that movie and watched it with my husband last night. Take it or leave it, like them or hate them, these are just some rambling thoughts as I search for something to blog about. I’m at an all-time low on blogability at the moment. I have lots of things I think about, but getting those thoughts into a blog post is just not happening for some reason. When I do find time to sit quietly and attempt to write a post, the blank screen sits there blinking at me in a rather taunting manner remaining depressingly blank while either someone starts crying, someone starts destroying our newly decorated Christmas tree (just how many times will I be saying, “No, no!” this Christmas season as I attempt to redirect our very determined, very stubborn, very curious 18-month-old??), someone needs me to check homework (I hate math! Don’t tell my son I said that, though, please?), someone needs me to intervene in a scuffle, or I’m just plain brain tired and don’t feel like thinking through my first drafts to get them presentable. I have a 2 ½ page post I wrote today that was a sort of rant about something I was thinking about, but it needs a lot of work to pare it down. Even then, it will probably stay a draft forever, I’m thinking. Whine, complain, blah, blah, blah. Smile!

But, for anyone who still cares, I did decide not to quit blogging completely. The thought crossed my mind there for a bit, but I finally decided I’ll just write when the ‘want to’ hits and not worry too much when it doesn’t.

What was I planning to write about in this post? Oh, yes, the movie we watched last night. See, I’m having the hardest time focusing right now. Anyway, I’m not a huge fan of movies based on Bible stories. Just not my favorite thing. And, though I know lots of people liked One Night With the King, I cannot say that I was all that impressed. As a movie in and of itself, it wasn’t too bad. Interesting story, intriguing sets and costumes, and the writers resisted the temptation to make it racy or raunchy. It was a clean, entertaining movie. And these days, that’s somewhat rare, so I appreciate that, for what it’s worth. But, I just have a hard time watching Hollywood re-enactments of Bible stories, because inevitably they will use much artistic license with the material. This movie was no exception. I kept finding myself saying, “Yeah, right. That’s just not how the Bible tells this story,” or, “Come on, that’s just not even close to the biblical account,” much to my husband’s amusement. I have a hard time staying quiet during movies, by the way. It’s a very annoying habit I have. I won’t go into all of my little gripes, but my biggest criticism is that Hadassah’s character was written as too modern and western in the way she interacted with the other characters and there were several liberties taken with the story line and motivations, but that’s to be expected of a Hollywood movie of this type I think, and really, I’d just rather read the actual account. And, a petty observation perhaps, but the blue eyeliner they used on Xerxes made him look just plain creepy weird. But, for the most part, it was an okay movie if you just watch it as a movie and don’t have the compulsion to compare it to the actual biblical account, which I kept finding myself compelled to do.

Just so you know, it isn’t just the Esther movie I’m not thrilled with. I haven’t watched The Passion of the Christ, either, for the same reasons. That and what I had read about some of the heavy Catholic overtones and some other convictions I have about Passion Plays in general. Actually, the year it came out in theaters, I got so irritated by the people at church telling me that I could not truly appreciate the crucifixion if I didn’t go see this movie that I stayed away. Hmmm, centuries of people who only had the written Gospel accounts of the crucifixion just didn’t know what they were missing without Mel Gibson’s movie? I think not. I knew someone who has a very sensitive disposition and she really didn’t want to go see that movie because she is uncomfortable with graphic depictions like we were being warned it was, but she felt she must go see it. In fact, some people kind of implied that those of us who were choosing not to see it were somehow not appreciating the sacrifice our Lord made because we chose not to see a movie.

A church we used to be members of years ago had a big Passion Play production every Easter, and I was in the choir. I sang in it several years and finally had to sit out the last several years we were there. I didn’t like that I saw the actor who played Jesus in my mind every time I prayed for months after the Passion Play. It was awful for me. I know many people heard the gospel during those productions and I knew some people who were saved after attending and hearing the message. I’m not saying I think it’s necessarily wrong to have those dramas, but for me it was problematic. It is just a little too close to the prohibition against graven images for me. I know that’s not everyone’s conviction, but it is mine.

So, anyway, I don’t really like movies made about Bible stories. It doesn’t bother me if other people like them, that’s fine. They just aren’t my cup of tea. One Night With the King was okay as far as movies go and very tame and tasteful by Hollywood standards and even entertaining to watch, but still I don’t think it’s one I’d go out of my way to recommend, though I can’t say I would discourage anyone from watching it, either. How’s that for ambivalence? And now I’m finished rambling for the evening.