Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jesse Tree

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. (Isaiah 11:1 NIV)

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Preparing our hearts and minds for the coming of the Christ child. It seems like I blog about our Advent traditions every year. Are they still traditions if you never do the same thing twice?! Darn you Internet, with your many good ideas.

Anyway, I thought we'd do something different from the average Advent calendar countdown this year. One of the blogs I follow, A Holy Experience by Ann Voskamp, posted about a free Advent Christmas devotional (who doesn't like free?!) so I checked it out. Click here to read the post and download the devotional.

A Jesse Tree is a depiction of the ancestry of Christ. The best thing about the Jesse Tree is how it illustrates our rich history. You can feel God's unending love through the stories of the people, patriarchs and prophets. You can follow--and eagerly anticipate--Christ's future by looking at the past.

So here's what I did. While taking Ollie for a walk this week, I found the perfect branch. It was on the curb to be thrown out, (hello, free!) but was perfect for the project. I snapped it off, then had to figure out how to carry it and still hold onto Ollie's leash. I feel I need to explain this to anyone in town who happened to see me doing this--I might be crazy, but I'm crazy for Jesus!

I grabbed a pot I already had (a beautiful old one from my deceased Grandma Josie), some foam stuff for arranging flowers, and some moss. I cut the foam to fit in the pot, stuck in the branch, and covered the top with the moss. This will be the "tree" part of our Jesse Tree.

I printed off the ornaments from the devotional guide and had them laminated. I used a craft knife to make a slit in the top and slid a ribbon through.

We'll read the devotional and add an ornament each day of Advent. As the days draw nearer to Christmas, our hearts will draw nearer to the promises of Christ. And our bare Jesse Tree will be filled with the "fruit" of God's love.

How does your family celebrate Advent?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Want Need Wear Read

Gift giving can be a beautiful monster. Every birthday and holiday seems to revolve around getting "stuff" for the girls. Now don't get me wrong: people show love through gift giving, and I'm always appreciative of the gift giver's thoughtfulness and generosity. But the bottom line is that my kids don't really need much. They have a playroom full of dress up clothes, dolls, Barbies, and arts and crafts materials. And to tell you the truth, about a third of it sees actual play time.

So this year I'm going to adopt a principal I saw on Pinterest.

I folded a piece of paper into four columns and had the girls dictate their lists to me. Maddie enjoyed sorting out where each of her items belonged. When all was said and done the lists looked manageable. They've been circling items out of catalogs for weeks, but very few of those items made it to the final list. Perhaps they're already learning the difference between needs and wants?

It might be difficult to hold to four gifts. But perhaps those four gifts will be more meaningful and useful in the long run. I want my girls to learn that joy doesn't come from things. Joy comes from serving others. Joy comes from being happy with what you have. Joy comes from God.

What are your holiday gift giving rules or traditions?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

No other gods

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. (Isaiah 55:2 NIV)

I'm on my way to pick up the kids from school. I'm in the car alone, so I turn on the radio. Whatever's on NPR isn't holding my attention, so I start scanning channels. I don't really know the stations down here yet. The radio lands on what sounds like a promising Christian station. But it's static-y and tuning in and out as I head out of the valley and into Princeton. A Top 40 station is cutting in. I hear Adam Levine singing about his payphone drama (which probably began with actually finding a payphone. Is this 1992?!). I smile and wonder to myself which station will win...

I just finished an 8 week Bible study with some awesome ladies from my local MOPS group ('sup Monday Morning Manna?). "No Other Gods" by Kelly Minter is a look at what keeps us from an intimate relationship with God and gives us encouragement to smash our "idols". We're not talking golden calves here: money, TV, social media, image, drugs/alcohol, sex, food...anything that takes our eyes and hearts off of God is an idol.

The book challenged us to identify the idols in our own lives. And boy, do I have a lot of them. I can find lots of good reasons why I don't have time for God: My kids are going nuts, the dog needs walking, I need to post that funny thing Ava said on Facebook, the house is a mess, laundry, dinner, I'm get the idea.

It's easy to get discouraged and try to hide from God. But the thing God spoke to me most clearly during this study was, "Be kind to yourself." He knows I can't give it all up at once. He's not asking me to. He also knows that I will try, then spectacularly crash-and-burn. He will be there to forgive and encourage me to try again. And again.

The above verse from Isaiah asks why we would spend our money and time on things that do not satisfy. He's talking long-term satisfaction here. But as a culture, we balk at long-term. We want gratification now. Its easier than asking for help or waiting for His answer. But any relationship takes time.

As I got further into Princeton, the Christian station's signal got stronger. I was blessed by a song I hadn't heard before and was given some encouragement for something I've been going through lately. God wins. He always does.

What are your idols? Where do you place your hope?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Big robes to fill

One of the perks of Todd going to school up in Evanston is that he's plugged in to the college student scene. He has access to a kind of campus "Craig's List" where Garrett students can sell, swap, or seek certain items. Through this site, Todd became aware that there were some clergy robes available. Since Todd is very early in his ministry career, and since clergy robes are quite expensive, he responded to the posting. He was able to obtain two beautiful clergy robes from a recently deceased United Methodist pastor in the area. The pastor's widow had wanted to donate the robes in hopes that some new pastor, much like Todd, would be able to use them.

Todd picked up the robes on campus and took the widow's information so that he could write her a thank-you note. And as is typical of the Internet generation, he Googled her surname to see what he could find out about the man whose robes he would fill.

The following link is a blog post written by another pastor in memory of Rev. Robert C. Wiedrich:

What a humbling testimony of the impact one's life can have on others. Here's my favorite part:
"He said that Christ was with those who suffer, and that if we would follow Jesus then that's where we must be, too. He worked to break down racial segregation in the church and in society. He stood with locked out union workers. He witnessed first-hand the suffering of the Nicaraguans in the 1980s on account of Reagan's foreign policy (I still remember reading the letters he wrote from Nicaragua for the church newsletter). Unfortunately, he did not live to see the end of discrimination against gays and lesbians in the United Methodist Church."

Our country has just gone through the wringer. The "winners" edged out the "losers" by meager percentage points. Ours is a country divided. But no matter what important economic, political, and social matters we have ahead of us it all comes down to this: Christ is with us. If we proclaim to be followers of Jesus, we need to put aside red and blue and get down to work serving others, just like Reverend Wiedrich.

Coincidentally, Reverend Wiedrich was buried the week we moved our family to Illinois to begin our ministry. As one generation ends their leadership another begins. So goes the circle of life. But the need to live Christ to others never ends. We must faithfully follow.

Can you fill the robes of those who went before you? And would someone want to fill yours when you leave this life on earth?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Operation Christmas Child

If you haven't heard of this amazing mission yet, stop reading and go here first.

Have you ever received a gift from a total stranger that made you feel loved, even though you had never met the sender?

I first heard about Operation Christmas Child at my Tiskilwa Christian Women meeting in October. Two ladies from Manlius UMC came and spoke to us about the program. Their church had been doing it for a number of years and typically packs 50 boxes each year. The entire time the ladies were presenting I heard a voice whispering in my head, "Do this." I felt it deep in my heart. I knew this was an opportunity to spread the Good News and to teach my children about missions.

So I brought some information home, showed the girls some information online, and followed Operation Christmas Child on Facebook. We prayed about it and discussed it as a family: Who should we send a box to? Boy or girl? What age? It quickly became apparent that each girl wanted to do her own box, so we decided to make a boy box and a girl box for ages 5-9.

In addition to the simple items from the boxes, each recipient receives a booklet in his/her native language telling the Good News of God's love for each of us.  For more information on this program, click here.

I went online to donate my $7/box fee for shipping. I was able to then print a unique bar code to affix to the box that would track the destination of the box.  The girls predict our boxes will end up in the Phillippines or Africa.  We can't wait to find out where our boxes go!

Then we did the fun part: Shopping to fill our box! I took the girls to the local dollar store to get the majority of our items. Maddie said that she, "Wanted to spoil them like our family spoils us." Here's the final haul:

I wrote a letter to the recipients of our boxes with a family picture of us and a map of where we live. We told a little about ourselves and said that we were praying for him/her. We included our address and are hopeful that one day we might be able to correspond with our box recipients.  Both Maddie and Ava colored pictures for the recipients. They both chose pictures of baby Jesus.

Maddie and I organized and filled the boxes. She was so proud of how full each box was and noticed that even the plastic box itself might be a useful tool in a developing country.

A picture of the finished boxes, ready to be dropped off at a local church, is below.

Here's the best part: It's not too late to pack your own box! The national collection week is November 12-19. Click here to find a collection location near you.  If you can't fill your own box, click here to donate to Build-a-Box online.

This program has helped get us into the spirit of giving.  And isn't that what the holidays are all about?

Join us in praying for the volunteers who sort and collect the boxes, the people who travel to far away places to deliver them, the recipients of the boxes, and the missionaries who distribute them and share the Good News.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Another 30 days of thanks

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever. (Psalm 118:1 NIV)

Last year began our family thankfulness project. Each day one member of the family wrote something he/she was thankful for and placed it on a ribbon strung up in the kitchen/dining room. Remember this post?

It's so remarkable to look back to where we were one short year ago. We were stressed-out and anxious about our uncertain future in Michigan. We were waiting for direction in Todd's candidacy process in Detroit and looking at the possibility of moving our family to Illinois. I was working full-time but feeling torn between home, my job, and church. The girls, of course, were perfectly oblivious to the changes that were coming. In truth, I think Todd and I did enough worrying for the four of us.

Fast forward one year. We are settled into our beautiful parsonage in Illinois. Todd is still in seminary and is serving two wonderful congregations. I have gotten my wish to be at home with the girls through this time of transition, and am finding fulfillment in my Monday morning Bible study and helping out in Sunday school. The girls are really starting to thrive. This is confirmed not only by my observations but also by their teachers at parent-teacher conferences yesterday. We are blessed.

But back to our thankfulness project. About a month ago in the dollar bin at Target, I found this:

I thought it would be a nice upgrade from last year's wimpy clothesline, so I grabbed two. The kit came with 6 leaves each, so I traced and cut out more leaves using last year's leftover scrapbook paper. I laminated the tree parts and leaves so we can use them for multiple years. The tree is supposed to stand alone, but the kids/dog were constantly knocking it over, so I relocated the tree pieces to on a photo ledge in the dining room. Here's a closer look:

Pretty and functional!

I can't wait to hear what the girls are thankful for this year. I know what I am thankful for: God's unending love, grace and mercy.  We could not have made it this year without them.

What are you thankful for?  How are you showing your gratitude this Thanksgiving season?