Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Greetings from Our House



We have received so many wonderful cards, photos (the wreath is spilling over with them today!) and newsletters. We love ALL of them! This style of card tree is new this year. May have to get a bigger tree, the way the mail's been coming in!)



A new bell-ringing angel wind chime. She says, "Those who believe are blessed." The rest of the angels are singing on high in the playroom (definitely on high!).



Our snowman shelf display, which stays up through the end of February.
RJ2 made the orange-cinnamon pomander.


Our sea life tree.... started after our honeymoon to Vancouver 18+ years ago. We loved seeing the seals at Stanley Park. Sea life includes friends like penguins and even egrets (from Florida). One of my sisters made the painted glass balls.


RJ2 made a gingerbread house at school. Her preschool teacher thought CJ would like to make one, too, so she gave her all the "fixin's" and CJ made one that afternoon.


RJ2 with the "stuffed" nativity, which traveled off the sofa and onto the floor! (We are still trying to figure out who rang-and-ran, leaving us with the nativity.) The not-kid-friendly nativity is on the dining room side table (and all 9-1-1 calls concerning the wise man, angel and cow were answered successfully).



Our mantel has Rs trains on it again this year. It's such a classic collection (from Hallmark, and my folks). We have Lego santas on CJ's side and the Peanuts' bell choir ornament and golden retriever snowglobe on the right. (Wonderful evergreeny votives from a friend were completely burned to the plate this morning!)


The kids Christmas corner, designed by CJ. This is one of the advertisements she created last year.



In the kitchen, the cows get dressed for Christmas!



And the girls made many cookies for the neighbors and babysitters (Note CJ's gingerbread cookie nativity)....



...And not too many instances of eating the flour!



Good friend "Chatty Kelly" gave me this ornament last year...busy, but way happy this year!



Here is our Christmas tree! Still lots of paper ornaments on the bottom (notice Diego swinging from his zip line). On the left in blue is RJ2's new dance ornament, from a fellow dancer in her class. CJ's ornament as a memento from this year's church pageant is on the right (she was a reader this year).



This is CJ's poinsettia that she made at school. Love this!


And this is our front hallway garland which has those great chiming bells that play like 40 songs! Goes on for 30 minutes or so. Every time the first peal starts, RJ2 says, "Someone turned on the bells." After a few seconds she says, "Can we turn off the bells?"


And this is from this morning! CJ was ecstatic over the "activity" table, which includes billards, air hockey and ping-pong. RJ2 is completely smitten with the Barbie pool and cabana, which was used for the first time with her new Jo-Jo's Circus characters...and then some Rudolph figures....the new Polly Pockets....her Teletubby Christmas ornament.....

Hope you all are enjoying a wonderful day of rest and relaxation! Merry Christmas!!

Friday, December 19, 2008

CJ's Yule Blog




Today was the last day of school, and CJ brought home a neat in-class assignment. Her class was given a sheet of paper that listed different questions related to writing a story—"Who are you?" "Where are you?" What is your problem?" etc.

Then, they rolled two dice, added together the two numbers showing, and found the corresponding number answer to their questions in each category. With all their questions answered, they could begin to craft a story. (This may be a blog meme for the New Year!)


Here are her answers:

Who? Santa Claus

Where? At Santa's workshop
What do you have? A package of Christmas cookies
Whom or what do you meet
? Prancer and Comet

What is your problem
? You must find a cure for the Christmas blues

* * *



A Christmas Cure
by CJ

I was up at The Pole, listening to the radio, when I heard the news. Good news, because I got to travel at a time other than the 24th of December. Bad news because—well, you're about to hear why.

"THERE IS A CHRISTMAS GROUCH! HE HAS THE CHRISTMAS BLUES! ANYONE WHO CAN HELP HIM WILL GET THE GREATEST GIFT OF ALL!"


That's why it was bad news. It proved that few people are still as jolly and generous as me today.


So, thinking I could help this fellow, I hitched up the sleigh and flew away.



Little did I know this man lived in CHINA—
a country where people don't speak the language I know—English.

We finally arrived. I tried to communicate with the man,
but we couldn't understand each other's languages.


But out of the corner of my eye, I saw some cookies in the sleigh. Maybe if I gave the cookies to the man, he would understand that Christmas is about giving. I gave them to the man, and he flashed me a smile. But where was my reward?



Then, two of my reindeer, Comet and Prancer, started writing me a message in the snow. This is what it said:
When you gave the cookies to the man, he was happy and gave you the gift of happiness. It is the greatest gift ever.


I felt so happy! I flew away in my sled, showing my gift to everyone. From then on, I always gave "the greatest gift on earth" to every child for Christmas. It's packaged in the darkest corners, but everyone always finds it.


* * *

She's so profound here that it makes me cry! Happiness, packaged in the darkest corners.... You know, we can't know happiness without also realizing the opposite of happiness—dark corners, whatever they look like to you. And maybe happiness is something that we have had tucked away within ourselves, just hidden, since our first days.
We just don't always find it.

Do you believe everyone can find his or her happiness? It may just take someone else—like Santa found out—to help them see it. If we could do that, we really would be giving (and receiving) the "greatest gift of all."

Thanks for the gift, Sweetheart! (And thank You, Lord, for her gift, too!)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Fresh Start




In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen,
snow on snow
snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

—In the Bleak Midwinter

Do you like winter? Perhaps it depends on where you were raised. I grew up, went to school and spent 14 years working in climates where winter is a significant season. Now, as a central Virginia transplant, I'm still trying to understand why winter is fussed over the way that it is. No one can drive or go to school when it snows. It's fascinating to me, but I'm starting to get used to the idea.

Christina Rossetti's poem, from which we get our hymn In the Bleak Midwinter, paints quite a vivid picture of the harshness of winter in her opening lines. 'Moan,' 'hard as iron,' 'like a stone'—it all sounds very painful, or should I say 'bleak.'

When we carry out our sinful lives, without recognition of a Savior, we create a similarly bleak picture for ourselves. Sin makes us miserable! It makes us hard, icy hard. It makes our hearts hardened to seeing any other life beyond the one that we're trying to make for ourselves.
But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry.

"'When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,' says the LORD Almighty. 'I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land was left so desolate behind them that no one could come or go. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.'"

—Isaiah 7:11-15

The children of Israel were so stuck in their sin that God had to discipline them. They were no longer in one place, because He scattered them all over the world.

I like Matthew Henry's commentary on this passage. He says, "
Nothing is harder than the heart of a presumptuous sinner (Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible). Israel was "wise in its own eyes" and didn't understand that their sin was pushing them further and further away from their loving Father.


"Come now, and let us reason together," says the LORD, "Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool."

—Isaiah 1:18


Sin doesn't make God happy. In fact, sin, by definition, is that which separates us from God. A holy God and a sinful people cannot have a relationship. God knows that, and He loves us so much that He did something about it—the only thing He could do.


Brightly shone the moon that night,
Though the frost was cruel.

—Good King Wenceslas

As you know, God sent Jesus! There was nothing that a sinful, fallen, frosty cruel world could do on its own power or merit, but Jesus, the Savior, could save His people from their sins. That's why He's named Jesus (Matthew 1:21). He would bear the sins of the world, even unto His own death, so that we could once again have a relationship with God and, one day, stand before Him, snow white as an angel!

But, it's not enough that God sent Jesus. We have to receive Him, and we have to pray in confession for His forgiveness. Not that we have to wait for it, like snow in central Virginia. Jesus told us to pray for it. And He will cast it out of us, as far as the east is from the west, and remember it no more.

No ear may hear his coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in.

—O Little Town of Bethlehem

So, while the winter may be harsh, it is not without its quiet beauty, as in the snow which falls from Heaven—a reminder of God's forgiveness and fresh start through His Son, Jesus.



But as long as You love me so
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

—Let It Snow



* * *


Jesus—Not just the reason for the season,
but our eternal season of reason.

* * *

You can follow my Countdown to Advent-ure posts, from now through Christmas Day, at my Mothers Of Preschoolers Mentor Mom blog, In-between time.
(Click on the nativity picture above to visit.
)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas in Love



It's that time of year,
When the world falls in love,
Ev'ry song you hear seems to say:
"Merry Christmas,
May your New Year dreams come true...."

—The Christmas Waltz (emphasis mine)

When are folks most likely to hear about Jesus? Well, today's church would probably suggest either at Christmas or Easter, when the "Christmas/Easter visitor" is most likely to attend a church service. And the church goes all out to make those visitors welcome, with special programs and services built around the Scriptures but with elements to appeal to a non-church attendee.

The goal? To introduce someone to Christ with the real goal that he or she "falls in love" with Him.



Surely, those who know Jesus would like nothing more than for all the world to know and proclaim Him as their Lord and Savior. But, if you've ever fallen in love before, you know that it involves falling, and not everyone is prepared to do that for everybody, and certainly not for Jesus.

What?!

Most of the definitions for the word fall involve the idea of coming down, dropping, going lower. But, you say, falling in love usually leaves one feeling elated, up, reaching for the clouds. Again, I ask you...have you ever fallen in love?

Falling does involve coming down to reality at some point. You may find yourself having to lose your status (as in, no longer single); drop some things you used to do all the time (in deference to activities with your love); lose your preferences for certain ways of doing things (yes, I'm thinking of the toilet paper direction kinds of things here) in order to co-exist with your love. Not to mention expectations you have of other people.





God had expectations for His people, and we seem to consistently fail Him. It started in the Garden of Eden, continued with God's flooding of the Earth, and the travels and travails of the Israelites. To try and maintain a relationship, God established covenants with His people: "If you do this, I will do that."

I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

—Genesis 17:7 (to Abraham)

And to follow that up, God called Moses and gave Him the words of a covenant to be written down and kept—the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28).

So, what happened? God's people couldn't uphold the covenant, thus putting the relationship between God and His people in a very bad position. The love affair would seem to be over, except that God didn't make people to be mere objects on the Earth. Relationship is what He desired, and He had a plan to re-engage His people.





In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you."

—Luke 22:20

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

—Hebrews 9:15

...Which is why Jesus came near.

But let us realize that a covenant relationship continues to involve two sides. Jesus came near, and He is now at the right hand of God to be there for you. But where are you?

Do you see Him in this season, or are you just walking through?

Have you fallen in love or are you afraid He'll catch your eye?

Do you know Him, or do you just think you do?

Will you reach out to Him, or will He be something you take for granted...or ignore?

Do you know He loves you?

Crowded streets, busy feet hustle by Him.
Downtown shoppers, Christmas is nigh.
There He sits all alone on the sidewalk.
Hoping that you won't pass Him by.




Should you stop; Better not, much too busy.
You're in a hurry, my how time does fly.
in the distance the ringing of laughter
And in the midst of the laughter He cries:

—Pretty Paper (if Jesus were the one in the street)



Jesus doesn't want you to pass Him by.


* * *



Jesus—Not just the reason for the season,
but our eternal season of reason.

* * *

You can follow my Countdown to Advent-ure posts, from now through Christmas Day, at my Mothers Of Preschoolers Mentor Mom blog, In-between time.
(Click on the nativity picture above to visit.
)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Plugging into the Season





This child now weak in infancy
Our confidence and joy shall be.
The power of Satan breaking.
Our peace eternal making.

—Break Forth, O, Beauteous Heavenly Light

He may have entered the world as a fragile baby, but Jesus had within Him His Father's awesome power. For those who make the Christian journey, we can know that same power—the power of Christ, working within us.



Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing...."

—John 15: 4 & 5

When Jesus shared this teaching, He was speaking to groups who understood about agricultural concerns. Today, speaking to commercialized holiday shoppers, His analogy might read something like this:



Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No bulb can bear light by itself; it must remain in the light string. Neither can you bear light unless you remain in Me. "I am the light string; you are the bulbs. If a man or woman remains in Me and I in them, they will bear much light; apart from Me you have no power...."

Why do we need power? To do anything...anything Christlike, that is—and that is the goal, isn't it? Being plugged in to Christ—reading His Word, walking in faith, doing what His Word tells us to do—means that we can be like Christ and be light in the otherwise dark world.




"He will bring us goodness and light."

—Do You Hear What I Hear?

He is our power within—"our confidence," as the hymn puts it. When you go about the day-to-day, in whose confidence are you resting? In whose power are you operating? Yours or His?? Power isn't just for the tough days (although, where would we be without His power on the tough days!?), it's for all our days, no matter what happens.

Need another example?
Consider Jesus' mother, Mary. There's a powerful song Amy Grant song out there that you aren't going to hear on the local "Lite" Christmas stations. It's about what this young teenage mother might have been pondering before the birth of the Savior. Her plea? "Help me be strong, help me be, help me...."



Do You wonder as You watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place?
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan.
Help me be strong, help me be, help me

Breath of Heaven, hold me together...
Be forever near me, Breath of Heaven.
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness
Pour over me your holiness for You are holy
Breath of Heaven....

—Breath of Heaven
We can't do anything without Him. So let's make sure that we're plugged in, ready to shine our light, so the whole world will know He is Lord!

Christ is the Lord!
With saint and seraph praising,
His pow'r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow'r and glory evermore proclaim!

—O Holy Night


* * *


Jesus—Not just the reason for the season,
but our eternal season of reason.

* * *

You can follow my Countdown to Advent-ure posts, from now through Christmas Day, at my Mothers Of Preschoolers Mentor Mom blog, In-between time.
(Click on the nativity picture above to visit.
)