Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Joy to the World

The tree has been trimmed, the gingerbread house built, the cookies baked.  The kids have gathered each morning to hear Scriptures read, preparing our hearts to celebrate Jesus' birth.  We walked through Christmas lights, drank hot chocolate, and watched a few Christmas movies. 

And with all the family time, the sowing "meaning" into the season, and the avoidance of many things commercially related to Christmas, I sometimes feel like my kids don't get it.  Honestly, some days I feel like I am simply going through the motions myself. 

Christmas is a celebration of a Savior who has come to redeem us and to give us life, life abundantly. We celebrate because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  No one can come to the Father except through him.  We celebrate because he equipped us with everything we need to live out this life in such a way to honor Him. 

In celebrating these awesome truths, we are reminded of others who don't have this abundance in life.  Christmas serves as a great reminder to share the joy of Jesus with others, and to take our resources, (time, talent, and money) to those who need to experience an abundant life. 

Tonight was such a special treat for me.  My older two boys and I drove only 15 minutes away, met some friends, and spent the evening at a place called The Malachi House, a home for the terminally ill who would otherwise be spending their last days homeless or in make-shift shelters.  This place is a home.  It is a home where these precious souls can come and live together during their last days on this earth with dignity.

We gathered in the chapel and sang Christmas carols to a camera that broadcast our voices and faces to each of the residents' rooms.  Most were bed ridden.  We filed out of the small chapel to individually visit the residents.  As we were exiting, I noticed a small book of prayer requests sitting on the table.  I confess, I peaked!  Don't worry, I didn't thumb through it.  I just looked at the open page.  I almost wish I hadn't.  Written in poor, weak handwriting were some of the residents' prayer requests.  There were only 5 written on the page, and 4 of them contained prayers that their family would visit.  My heart broke.

Abundance?  Did these people know of the abundant life that our Savior came to give to us?  Whatever their stories, we found them here, spending their last days not among family, but with strangers, suffering through their last days.  And yet, they are just as precious to their Maker as you and I.  We walked through the home, visited almost every resident.  Some told us about their lives.  Some were just so flabbergasted that we all came to visit that they wanted to hear about us...well, about our kids anyways!  Some were clearly in their last days, unable to move, unable to speak. 

One woman specifically touched my soul with the touch of her hand.  She was one of those who didn't have much time left.  It was obvious.  She was skin and bones, her eyes almost bulging from her face.  She couldn't speak.  It didn't seem like her eyes could even focus.  I wondered, as we were putting our cards and goodies on her table, whether she even knew we were there.  Just as we were leaving, her frail hand reached for us.  Three of us responded by holding her hand as she struggled to speak.  Tears welled up in her eyes, and instantly a realization came to me that we may be the last ones to visit her.  We blessed her, told her she was loved, and wished her a Merry Christmas.  I do not know her story, I do not know why she was dying.  I don't know if she ever knew abundant life.  Tonight, we tried to show it the best way we knew how.  We left her with gifts, cards, smiles, prayers, and touches. 

We have been talking and teaching our kids about the good news of Jesus.  We have been telling them about the world's realities and how we are called to serve others just as Jesus served while he was on this earth.  Tonight, I didn't do much talking.  Tonight, my boys came alongside me.  They sang.  They passed out cards.  They wished these dear souls possibly their last Merry Christmas.  We've served before.  I've looked for every opportunity to serve alongside of our children.  Tonight was different.  Tonight they saw loneliness and sickness.  And they weren't scared.  They were filled with hope.  They loved being able to fill these people's rooms with treats and cards. They liked going in to their rooms "like a big party" and talking with them.  They want to know when we're going to go back.

I asked the boys what their favorite part of tonight was, and my 4 year old said that he liked meeting people who were going to live with Jesus soon.  Wow.  We got to visit with people who will be in His presence soon, and my kids were so excited to meet them.  My 6 year old said singing "Joy to the World" was his favorite, because he wanted everyone to know that Jesus came and because of it there is joy, no matter what.  He wants to know what we can do to make sure people know about our joy before they become this sick.  Their hearts are willing, and their flesh isn't yet weak.

Truth be told, I like decorating and baking and snuggling up with just the Christmas lights on, watching a movie with my family.  But this year, my favoriate Christmas memory was watching my boys "get" it. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Laying Down Roots

“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”  Simone Weil

I love reflecting on life.  So often, I find that if I sit back and think through all the random encounters and unplanned events, there is a theme...a whisper of some sort.  This morning, I reflected on the past week and I heard that whisper.

What was the whisper?  Why spoil the surprise?

In the past week, I have had the pleasure of seeing old faces, all from different eras of my life.  A few nights ago, I was able to sit and listen to a woman who knew my parents (and me!) when I was very little.  She shared the most amazing stories of how she is being used to free gem mining slaves all around the world and about how she and her husband are working to raise funds to build a freestanding orphanage in a remote area of Nepal.  I wanted to hear more and more, and she shared more and more.  And we were like old friends.  Now, arguably, she is such a kind, wonderful woman, and I’m sure she made many people feel the same.  But she remembered me from when I was very little.  She knew my dad.  She asked about him.  She had specific memories.  I felt very much that a part of her heart had somehow been transplanted to me, because my heart is also passionate about seeking justice and looking after the fatherless.

Just before that interaction, I visited my childhood best friend and her family as they mourned the loss of her dear father.  As I stood in line waiting to give her a hug, I thought about how often we let years go by before reconnecting with old friends.  I thought about how someone who was such a big part of your life can so easily become a memory. But I also realized that real friends, good friends, leave their imprint on you.   And then, as I stood in my old church and grade school, I was flooded with memories.  It was there that I met some very special people who became my forever friends.  It was there that I know I heard God’s voice clearly for the first time.  It was there when I began to discover my own personal strengths and gifts.  It was there that the Word of God was poured into me and my love for it sunk deep into my being.  And it was there that my childhood best friend and I shared such an important part of life together, transitioning from “child” to “adolescent.”  Now, she’s in a different transition, and I wanted nothing more than to experience it with her…as much as I could, at least.  Driving away my heart grieved for her family, and I was reminded to number my days.  And to be thankful for the seasons of life that formed who I am today.

A few days before that, I sat in the nursery of my church listening to very familiar music being performed by the arts team of our old church family.  Nothing seems to affect me more than music.  It can change my mood in an instant.  It can make me pensive, joyful, or peaceful.  And a lot of the time, it doesn’t just stir emotions, but memories as well.  That night, the music was sweet, but the memories were sweeter.  I remembered a much more carefree season of life, in my early days of college, when my good friends and I served our church for these productions, all growing closer to each other in the process.  Actually, one of the ways I really got to know my husband was by serving our church alongside of him.  That night, I heard the same voices sing the same songs and I was transported to “the good ol’ days” of college friends, fun times, and falling in love.  And as great as those memories are, there is a sense of pain in them because the church that was so much a part of our DNA is no more.  I know many grieved that loss and moved on, but for my husband and I, the friends we had at church became our family.  Once it dissolved, it felt like we were kids in the middle of a divorce.  Though we maintained many friendships over the years, it’s just not the same.  The music was a reminder of that.  And yet, as I sat there slowly succumbing to sadness, I was reminded that God is still good, and real, and there is no building or mentor or friend or program in the world that could ever diminish his greatness and His love for us that we continued to experience outside of that family.  In addition to all that, His Word says that He sets the lonely in families.  And so He has!  Had we not been moved from there to where we are now, we’d be missing out on a whole new church family that we have grown to love immensely, more than we could have imagined!

 So, what’s the whisper?  I have never felt like I belonged.  My mother left, I changed schools, churches, friends, surroundings…but I am rooted in something much deeper than all of that.  I am rooted in love.  And those roots are spread out long and strong around the region.  It is this genuine love that connects me with a woman who knew me as a small child, and who is now inspiring and provoking me in her everyday, adventurous life.  It is that love that surpassed years of distance between childhood friends, allowing me to mourn with someone who I realize is very much a part of my own heart. It is God’s love that reminds me that in the pain of separation from a family, there is One who is closer than a brother, and He redeems situations and restores friendships…and brings new ones that are unimaginable and breathe life into me every day!  It was my Maker’s genuine love that whispered my name in each era of my life.  It was His voice wooing my heart and giving me His for the world when I was very young.  It was His voice telling me what kind of strengths He knit me together with and who I was to become.  It was His voice teaching me how to love Him alone, and not rely on other people or experiences in place of His presence.  Today, it is His love that speaks to my heart and says to me that though I have never felt like I belonged, I have real roots that are strong.

A friend of mine encouraged me with a thought one day.  That thought is that we are sojourning through this life.  Sojourning!  I love that!  Yes!  This is not “it” for us.  It is not to this world that we belong.  And yet, we live here, with real people, situations, passions, and losses.  So while we’re sojourning, there is plenty of time for us to love others and pursue justice on their behalf.  To me, there’s no better use of our time.  As a mom, there’s nothing better to model to my children.  I want them to learn how to gaze heavenward, knowing how to fully love, and to use what God has placed inside their own unique little bodies to serve others while we’re sojourning, however challenging that may be.

“I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3: 16-19






Monday, December 3, 2012

My Favorite Christmas Cookie!

Though my tree is up, my house is decorated, and my advent activities are underway, I find myself not entirely "into" the Christmas season quite yet. 

Perhaps it is because today was 60 degrees and the boys and I played a very competitive game of backyard soccer.  Perhaps it is because my days go by so much more quickly with 4 little ones.  Perhaps it is simply because I'm getting older.

Nonetheless, the Christmas season is upon us!  What better way to make it feel like Christmas than to bake some Christmas cookies?!  The greatest thing about Christmas cookies is that they transport us to memory lane, almost instantly.  I want to share with you one of my favorite recipes. 

During my first year of college, I moved in with a good friend and her family at Christmas break (I stayed for a few years!)  It was one of the very best seasons of my life!  Her family was so loving and traditional.  Their tree was perfectly trimmed, holiday movies were playing in the evenings, and the family would gather to look at their Christmas book, filled with memories of all their Christmases together.  I felt like I was living in a movie at times.  It is there that I am transported when I taste a chocolate covered cherry cookie!  Mr. C would make a few batches of these on a day off of work, and the house would smell heavenly!  The next year, I helped him bake a batch so that I could learn.  As a bonus, he handed me the recipe! 

Here it is...the wonderful Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookie recipe!

1 ½ cups flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. baking powder
1 egg
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
One 10 oz. jar of maraschino cherries undrained
1 6 oz. packages of semi-sweet chocolate pieces
½ cup sweetened condensed milk

In a mixing  bowl, combine flour and cocoa; set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium for about 30 seconds, until softened.  Add sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Beat till well combined.  Add egg and vanilla.  Beat well.  Gradually beat in the flour mixture.

Shape dough into 1 inch balls; place on ungreased baking sheet.  Press down on the center of each ball with thumb.  Drain cherries, reserving the juice.  Place a cherry in the center of each cookie.  In a small saucepan, combine the chocolate pieces and sweetened condensed milk; heat till chocolate is melted.  Stir in 4 teaspoons of cherry juice.

Spoon about one teaspoon of the frosting over each cookie, covering each cherry. 

Bake in oven at 350 for 10 minutes. 

Voila! These are amazingly good warm out of the oven!  Let me know what you think...and if you have a minute, share with me your favorite cookie recipe!



Sunday, December 2, 2012

Motherless Mothering, Part 2!

I am amazed at the outpouring of comments, emails, messages and support that my last post received.  I’ve received so much encouragement and am so overjoyed that some simple words spoke to so many hearts.

I am even more amazed at the background stories that have landed so many women in the role of mothering without a mother; from abandonment and death to distance and dementia.  And here we are, doing the very best we can to raise our children, both young and old, but still desiring a mother’s influence in our lives.

Here’s what I love about the Bible…if you dig in it enough, there’s always a gentle whisper addressing all the pains in our hearts.  Strangely enough, I find myself loving Isaiah 49:15-16.  I turn to it often in those times of confusions and hurt and I find great comfort in these words. 

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
And not have compassion on the son of her womb?
Surely they may forget,
Yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me.” (NKJV)

Wait, what was that?  It’s entirely possible that a woman may have no compassion, even abandon, her own children?  The Bible knew that this was something that happened.  There’s nothing new under the sun.  Forgetting my child and having no compassion for him is hard for me to comprehend, but it’s not hard for God to understand.  For whatever reason, be it abandonment, death, distance, or illness, it is a known reality that we could be forever forgotten by our very own mothers. 

But the greatest part about this verse is the end: He will not forget us.  You know who He is?  He is the one who formed us in our mother’s womb.  He is the one who set our hearts in motion.  He is the one who is intimately acquainted with every turn, corner, and hidden place of our hearts.  And good or bad, He is the one who loves us.  Even if we are forgotten or left by the woman who is charged with our care, we are not left without a caregiver. 

He didn’t just stop there.  He not only said He would never forget us, but He is so stinkin’ crazy about us, that He went ahead and carved our names in the palms of His hands!  I don’t know about you, but that makes my heart sing!  It makes me proud to say “I am my beloveds and He is mine!”  Forever and for always, He has me on his mind and I cannot be forgotten.  Song of Solomon 8:7 says (NKJV):

Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor can the floods drown it.
If a man would give for love
All the wealth of his house,
It would be utterly despised.”

I have so much to say on the topic of motherless mothering.  Maybe I should be working up a manuscript : )  Reading comments and messages left me wanting to gather you all together, hug, and cry.  There are so many wounds, so many stories, but so much victory!  So many of you have lived amazing lives and have yourself walked into a mothering role without a role model.  And you have done so awesomely!  For all of you, I thank you for hearing my heart, sharing yours, and continuing this journey with me.

We cannot train up our children in the ways they should go and treasure each moment of this journey without knowing deep in our hearts that we have One who loves us more than anyone here on this earth ever could!

I leave you with these great quotes encouraging us to set our minds on things eternal:

"What joy that the Bible tells us the great comfort that the best is yet to be. Our outlook goes beyond this world." - Corrie ten Boom-

"You can look forward with hope, because one day there will be no more separation, no more scars, and no more suffering in My Fathers House. It's the home of your dreams!"
-Anne Graham Lotz-