Saturday, December 24, 2011

Come expectant Jesus

Paul mentioned a few days ago how Christmas has a different feel to it.  I have pondered over that comment for the last few days.  I never asked him to clarify, but wondered if he was disappointed that it was different, or was it just an observation?

Tonight I asked him about it.  I guess we came to the same conclusion.

Christmas doesn't have the same excitement and expectation as it used to.  When we were younger as soon as Thanksgiving was past we were eagerly awaiting Christmas and all the magic and gifts that it held.

I guess the feeling is a little different now that we are older.  But I think that is OK.

Becuase I have found over this past month that I still have been eager with anticipation.  I have been eager to share Christmas with my kiddos - both the big ones and the little ones.  My own kids know the Christmas story better than some of residents do.  I have enjoyed sharing the Christmas story with them, helping them to see the awesome miracle that occurred all those years ago when God took on flesh and became like man.

And I love telling them how the story doesn't just stop there.  There is so much more of the story to tell, as you well know.

Today we decided to do another rendition of the traditional Slavakian dinner that we celebrate with Paul's family.  There were a few changes but we kept some of the same rituals:  Paul put a cross of honey on everyone's forehead, we shared a (graham) cracker with honey and wished each other a Merry Christmas.  Instead of wine, we had grape kool-aid.  Paul cut an apple and shared it with the group.  A resident helped me make the Slavakian nut bread earlier in the day.  We had that with fried fish (loaves and fishes).  Instead of saukraut we had brussel sprouts with bacon.  Raisins instead of prunes.  Sweet corn instead of sweet peas.  We did, however, still have the cottage cheese and the cream of wheat.  We set the table with a white tablecloth, hay, evergreen, and coins.  A candle was placed outside the window to welcome the Holy family.  An extra seat was set for the stranger who may stop by.
Why do brussel sprouts get such a bad rap?  These were delicious! Maybe it had to do with the bacon...

It was fun to share this tradition with the residents and tell them what each little things stood for and how different parts of the meal pointed to Jesus.

My hope is that as we all pass through this Christmas season and into the new year, we continue this feeling of expectation.  Because just as we waited for Christmas to come, we still wait for Christ to come.  We expect Him to come.

And some day He will.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2011

To live among us...

When we first got married I started collecting a nativity set.  It was fragile and certainly one I wouldn't want children playing with.  Even now, with three little kids in our house, I put the nativity set up high on a shelf so it won't get messed with and broke.

Isn't there something wrong with this scenario?

Until this year it didn't occur to me that there was.

But as I was getting the nativity set out this year, showing each of the figurines to our kids, telling them what each was about, telling them to be careful and not brake anything, then placing Jesus high up on a shelf, I realized that I was going about this all wrong.

Jesus came and lived among us.  He came to our dirty, filthy lives.  The nit and grit of the everyday.  He walked beside the sinners, the hurting and blind, and ate meals with them,too.  He didn't come so he could be placed at a distance, to look at and remember from time to time.

How often do we put Jesus on a shelf?  Place Him at a distance and don't want to bother Him with the messiness of life because, well, He doesn't really care about that stuff, does He?

But Jesus doesn't want to be on a shelf.  He wants to be in every part of our lives.  He wants to help us in our filthiness.  He came to this earth, sacrificed Himself for our sins.  He gave up his realm of heaven to be contained in the body of a baby.  To be touched by the children, hugged by the sick made well.  He came down:

To make us clean.

To make us worth something.

To give our life meaning.

I bought another nativity set this year.  One that is down within reach of our children.  One where Joseph rides in a stroller and the Wisemen have front seat in a Lego car.  Funny though, the figurine that gets handled the most and loved on the most?


He has come to live among us.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

And a child shall lead them...

 This weekend we got to spend the weekend with Paul's side of the family:  his parents, his two brothers, their wives, and our two nieces (more on the festivities later).  The picture above is of my youngest niece, Morgan, who is 6 months old (give or take a few days).  This weekend Morgan reminded me of some important bits of wisdom.  I had the privilege of rocking her to sleep not once, but twice, this weekend.  Swoony. It was so so sweet.  As I was standing, swaying, and humming her to sleep I had a few thoughts go through my head:

"Who ever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child cannot enter in the kingdom of heaven."

As I looked at her sweet face I thought of how I really did not cherish the times I was trying in vain to get my own children to go to sleep.  I was always frustrated, impatient, and upset that I was spending time in a room all alone, save for a screaming infant.  But now that my own children are now past that point, and I don't get to do it anymore, it's more of a cherished experience.  I am not proud of those last few sentences...sigh.  As I was thinking through that, I thought about how God wants us to be as little children....and what exactly does that mean.  Because, you see, I am often like a little child.  
I whine
I pout
I'm selfish
I'm impatient
I want things that other people have
I want my way...right now!
Sigh, sadly, I am way more like a child than I would rather admit.  That is quite a pathetic list.

However, God calls us to be childlike not childish.

He wants us to come to Him with open, accepting hearts.  
With a faith that surpasses any kind of explanation.  
Forgiving hearts.
And, just like Morgan did for me, rest peacefully in His arms, with security and no fear of being harmed or abandoned.

Thank you, Morgan.  You are an excellent little teacher.
"While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about"

So, a little bit on our Christmas celebration with the Suvar's.  One great thing we do every year is the Villia dinner.  This is a traditional Slovakian meal that reflects on Jesus' life on earth.  It is eaten every Christmas.  There are several parts to the meal, and I will do my best to remember everything.
There is a candle placed outside to welcome in the Holy family.
There is hay on the table to represent Jesus' humble beginnings in a stable.
Evergreen on the table represents eternal life in Jesus.
Money is placed on the table in hopes of a prosperous new year.
A white table cloth is placed on the table to represent purity.
There are twelve dishes served to represent the 12 disciples.
A cross of honey is marked on each forehead by the oldest son as a symbol of the Holy Trinity.
We start with oplatky, which is similar to a communion biscuit, and break a piece off as we pass it around the table and wish one another a Merry Christmas.  We then have a sip of wine.
An apple is sliced and shared with everyone at the table. A symbol of the blessings in our lives.
Each member breaks open 3 walnuts - good nut=good year.   bad nut= well, you know.
We then pass around the remainder of the dishes to be shared:
Prunes - to remind us of Jesus cursing the fig tree
Sauerkraut and garlic - to remind us of the bitter things in life
Peas - to remind us of the sweet things in life
Bread (Slovakian nut breads! yum!) and fish (shrimp and clam chowder!) - to remind us of the miracle of the loaves and fishes
Cottage cheese with opanskance (small balls of bread)
I know there are some things that I am leaving out, but I think I have the majority of it.  We have done this tradition with Paul's family for the last 9 years, I hope that we continue to do it each year.  I love the deep family roots of it (Paul's dad's family is from Czechoslovakia) and how the whole meal points back to Christ.  Because, after all, isn't that what Christmas (and life!) is all about?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Planning....and it's disappointments

Sometimes life doesn't really go as planned.

I didn't really have to say that - you know.  i know it.

But sometimes acknowledging it makes me feel a little better about the fact that life doesn't really go as planned.  For some reason i so often think it's supposed to.  Even if life continues to prove otherwise.

This week started with some much anticipated time off.  We were on duty for 9 days - 6 of those without school (thank you Thanksgiving vacation!).  But things went, for the most part, smoothly, and we were headed into the week faced with a few days to not have to worry about anything but our own children and whether i should changed out of my pj's before or after breakfast lunch.

The original plan was for me to spend all of Monday helping my mom make Christmas candies.  Something i was really looking forward to.  Alas, not to be.

Tuesday night we were supposed to spend the evening with my parents (sans children) at a fancy restaurant (their treat!)  Alas, not to be.

When we thought we were going to hop in out car and head home after some Christmas shopping, was actually a VERY flat tire in a slushy, cold snowstorm.  Sigh. Life doesn't always go as planned.

But those upsets are minor compared to other life upsets that some other people i know are unexpectedly facing.

This week my grandparents are uprooting themselves from their independence and moving into an Assisted Living/Nursing Home Community.  What was something that was 'down the road a bit' or quite possibly 'never going to happen' suddenly became reality.  Life doesn't always go as planned.

In October, our sweet co-worker and friend was suddenly faced with a life-threatening and rare disease which called for a bone marrow transplant ASAP.  She had to leave a job and community that she was just getting used to (only 7 weeks in!) and move to live in a hospital for a period of time.  She's still there, recovering from a transplant and praying to go home soon.  Life doesn't always go as planned.

This morning when we thought we were going to see all the resident's off to school, we were met with obstinacy and a proud spirit.  We are currently praying for a soft heart and humility.

Thankfully I can fall back on the one thing that doesn't change and has always gone as planned.  My God is constant, in control, and always ready to take me back when i try to take the reins and make life go the way i want it to.  I have a hard time being able to 'roll with things' when i have plans for things to go a certain way. 

But thankfully I can find truth that reminds me that:
My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways 
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Whew! Thank goodness.

How about you?  What isn't going your way?  Can you look through the disappointment and see how God is working it out for your greater good?