Monday, December 31, 2012

The ABCs - Abundant Blessings of Christmas

Ah.... Christmas has come and gone once again.

But, this year's Christmas will be remembered forever!  It was so very different from past Christmases.

We were amazingly blessed by the gift of a trip to Florida to relax and spend time with my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and nieces.  I had high hopes of being able to blog every single day and upload all the photos I wanted to, without any internet limitations.  Alas, the $9.99 fee per day per device at the hotel meant that that didn't happen.

So, now I'm sitting at the airport waiting for our flight back to Haiti and taking advantage of the wi-fi here.  

Let's look back a week or so...

We spent Christmas Eve day at Cormier Beach in Haiti with our good friends and neighbors, the Ayars family, including their dad/grandpa, who was visiting.  Danielle had been sick earlier in the month...then Mark...and Naomy caught it, too.  She was still not at all herself on Christmas Eve day.  She fell asleep on Mark's lap in the shade and that's when I knew we needed to try a round of antibiotics.  Did you know that our dear friends, Steph and Jamey Hancock back in Bloomington bless us more than they know by being our on-call, answer-any-question-at-any-time-of-night-or-day nurse and doctor?  

I gave her the first dose of amoxicillin that night and she was already showing improvement on Christmas morning. Whew.

82 degrees and sunny at the beach on Christmas Eve, with a light breeze. Fun was had by all (even Naomy).

Many, many years ago, my mom and dad went on a Marriage Encounter weekend.  Through all of these years and more challenges, blessings, tragedies, and joys than can be counted, their Marriage Encounter group of couples has faithfully met every month.  I remember going to the group's Christmas party each December as a child... Mrs. Patchis' birthday cake for Baby Jesus...singing carols...eating too many cookies.  At some point in their history together, the group began "adopting a family" for Christmas each year.  Can you guess who they "adopted" this year?


It's hard to describe how it feels to watch your children open gifts that were chosen, purchased, and sent to them by wonderful, caring people who love them from so very far away.  It was a very special morning.  We were all quite overwhelmed by their generosity and love.  

We've just been called to board the plane.... so, I'll have to finish this post later!  Sorry for the interruption...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Stinky Wooden Manger

I've been leading my girls through an Advent study called "Truth in the Tinsel."  Each day, we read a small piece of the Nativity story in the Bible and talk about it, and then wrap it up with a simple craft we do together.  This week one of the days was about the manger.

I think that particular day's study grabbed my kids' hearts as strongly as it grabbed mine.

We read Luke 2:1-7, focusing on verse 7--"She gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."

Kid 2: "Mommy, what's an inn?"

Me: "It's like a hotel where people stay when they travel. It's like a hotel. Do you remember why it was so full of people?"

Kid 1: "Yeah, because of the senses."

Me: "Right--the census--all the people had to be counted."

Kid 2: "Why did she wrap her baby in cloths?"

Me: "Probably because she didn't have a soft blanket for him."

Kid 2: "What's a manger?"

Me: "It's a wooden box-like thing that people use to feed animals like horses and pigs."

Kid 2: "Why would she put him in there?  It was probably stinky."

Yeah, it probably was.  Day in and day out, some farmer slopped animal food in there for the creatures that lived in his stable.  I'm sure it wasn't sanitized.  It wasn't soft and cozy.  Perhaps being in Haiti has given us some added perspective on this part of the Christmas story.  We know those dusty roads like the ones Joseph and Mary traveled on.  We have seen the crowded city with sewage on the streets.  Wandering pigs, goats, horses, dogs and ROOSTERS are commonplace here and we have come to recognize their sounds and smell.  Maybe all of this brought this verse to life for us this week.

I talked with them about their baby bed and how it compared to Jesus' manger.  It was easy for them to remember their crib--it's the same one their little sister sleeps in.  Soft mattress.  Clean sheet.  Cozy blanket.  They'd still climb in there if I let them!

Jesus' glory was hidden at the time of his birth--except for a few people.  Mary was one of them.  How did she feel laying her babe in a smelly animal trough, knowing he was the Son of God--her own Savior?

Did she feel guilty?  Inadequate?  Panicked?  Unprepared?

Was she like so many other mothers in the world who hurt to their core when their child suffers?  Did she have any inkling of the depth of suffering he would endure in his lifetime?

My littlest one is fighting a virus right now.  Fever.  Diarrhea. Vomiting. General yuckyness.  When I hold her little too-warm body in my arms, I ache deep inside.  I want to take it away and I feel so helpless.

But, I am comforted in knowing that she's a healthy little 2 year old with a strong immune system.  In another day or two, she'll be back to her normal, joyful self.

What about moms who have children who are sick and won't get better?  What about the ones in Connecticut who buried their children this week?  What about the mothers here in Haiti (and other places in the world) who wake every day with anxiety because they're not sure if they'll be able to put food in their babies' hungry tummies?

Surely, God had a plan for Jesus' arrival in the humblest of conditions.  His humanness speaks to our souls.  He suffered, as we suffer.  He KNOWS our pain--he's been here.

Praying tonight for all of us moms who are hurting for our children.

Luke 2:16 "The shepherds hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning all that had been told to them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed."

My little sheep from this week's school Christmas program.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Wait and see.  What are you waiting for?  Just you wait.  Hurry up and wait.
Wait for it...wait for it....

“How much of human life is lost in waiting?” -Ralph Waldo Emmerson

My dad once told me that I was born without a fast gene.  You know, the gene that enables people to move and act at high speeds. 

I don’t have that.  I pretty much go at one, slow and steady pace.  I’ll always finish the race once I start it, but I will take my time getting there.

For the most part, the slower-paced Carribean lifestyle suits me.  But, even I get frustrated with how loooooong it takes to get things done, to get from here to there, to get my email to load....blah, blah, blah.

I’ve been studying Advent with my high school Bible class students, and it seems to me that, in some cases at least, my friend Mr. Emmerson got it wrong in his quote above.  

There is much to be gained in the waiting sometimes.

My students and I have been talking about what Advent is and why it was originally observed.  My research says that Advent is sometimes called a “little Lent.”  A time for purifying and preparing to receive the gift of Christmas.  

People haven’t always started celebrating Christmas before Thanksgiving.  They didn’t go to parties all through December, chugging eggnog and devouring endless tins of cookies.  

Instead, they fasted in the days leading up to Christmas.  They simplified.  They quieted.   They anticipated.

They waited. 

When Christmas Eve finally arrived, the celebration was worth the wait.  They chopped down their tree and brought it in for decorating.  They prepared a feast.  It was time to indulge!

How sad that now we get to Christmas day and feel “burned out” on festivities.  We lament that we’ve gained a few pounds from all the goodies we’ve devoured.  We are annoyed by all the decorations about the house.

My “Jesus Calling” reading for today spoke straight to me regarding these things I’ve been pondering--mentioned my name, in fact!

“I am working on your behalf.  Bring Me all your concerns, including your dreams.  Talk with Me about everything, letting the Light of My Presence shine on your hopes and plans.  Spend time allowing My Light to infuse your dreams with life, gradually transforming them into reality.  This is a very practical way of collaborating with Me.  I, the Creator of the universe, have deigned to co-create with you.  Do not try to hurry this process.  If you want to work with Me, you have to accept My time frame.  Hurry is not in My nature.  Abraham and Sarah had to wait many years for the fulfillment of my promise, a son.  How their long wait intensified their enjoyment of this child! Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses.” (Psalm 36:9; Genesis 21:1-7; Hebrews 11:1)

Ha! So, I have something in common with my Creator!  Neither of us likes to hurry. 

But seriously...

Let’s not make a waste of waiting.

Here, we get to wait for caterpillars to turn into butterflies all year round!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Something that Grace Says

I’ve loved reading from the moment I learned how.  I’m often reading as many as five different books at a time, transitioning between them as my moods and needs change.  And then, sometimes, I get so “into” a good book that it gets my complete attention and all the others are temporarily put on hold while I finish it.

I’m reading one of those right now.  It’s called “The House at Riverton” by Kate Morton.  For all of you Downton Abbey addicts, this story might just tide you over as you await the next season (which, for many of you, is coming in January and for me, will be much longer).

The main character is an old woman named Grace, who served as a lady’s maid at a big house when she was young.  Grace has spunk and an independent attitude that reminds me of my grandma (yes, that’s you, GG--ILYTM). 

I could go on and on about this book, but you will enjoy the story immensely more if you just buy and read it yourself.

Instead, there is one short excerpt that I want to share and reflect on...  Grace is talking about how wars fool us into thinking that history has clear turning points--milestones that we can pin into place.  People say things like, “Before WW2, life was like this...”  “After the war, things were different....”  If Grace was a real person and I was chatting with her, I would point out that many events--not just wars--have that effect: 9/11, the fall of Osama Bin Laden, the iPhone...

Then, she says:
True history, the past, is not like that.  It isn’t flat or linear.  It has no outline.  It is slippery, like liquid; infinite and unknowable, like space.  And it is changeable: just when you think you see a pattern, perspective shifts, an alternative version if proffered, a long-forgotten memory resurfaces...
In real life, turning points are sneaky. They pass by unlabeled and unheeded.  Opportunities are missed, catastrophes unwittingly celebrated.  Turning points are only uncovered later, by historians who seek to bring order to a lifetime of tangled moments.

I’ve read and re-read those paragraphs over and over...

I think I agree.

Real life turning points ARE sneaky.  There are some you see coming--you think they’re going to be the ones that change everything for you: a graduation, a job, a baby, retirement.  Others blindside you with no warning, like getting fired or the sudden loss of a loved one.  But maybe we can’t accurately label the milestones of our lives until we’re much older and we have some distance from those events... Maybe it’s impossible to label them when we’re in the midst of them.

I wonder how I’ll classify this time I’ve spent in Haiti when I’m 92?  

I can tell you how I’m feeling day to day.  I can blog about the struggles.  I can describe the suffering, poverty and heartache I’m witnessing.  I can relate the joys and small victories (sometimes they seem ever so teensy). I can even share the sting of the lessons I’m learning--the chiseling God’s doing on my heart and soul.

But I can’t see from where I am the bigger picture--the wider imprint Haiti is leaving on the story of my life.  

How is it changing me forever?  What will never be the same for my family?  How is He going to use every bit of all of this to accomplish His will?  Where will I go from here?

Maybe you’re living through a turning point yourself right now.  Maybe you’re asking some of these questions, too...

Or, maybe this is all too deep for you because you’ve got cards to get in the mail, a Christmas shopping list that keeps growing longer, and cookies in the oven...

It’s getting late and I know I’m tired.  So, for now, I’ll try to quiet my brain and stop the swirl of questions and ponderings.  Maybe I’ve got enough energy left for another chapter or two with Grace.

Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”