Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The True Light

Isaiah 9:2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

I wish I had the words to express what a blessing all you dear readers are to us.
Thank you for the prayers, the support, the kind words of encouragement.
Most of all, thank you for taking part in what God has called us to do here in Ghana ~ sharing the True Light of Christmas!
May you have a beautiful, blessed time celebrating our Saviour's birth.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

For the Days When Christmas Isn't Meeting Your Expectations.....

So most days the news feed isn't worth reading, and the friends' feed is full of sadness and heartache.
Some days the baby is naughty, bent on touching every single thing she isn't supposed to touch, grabbing full cups of milk and dumping them on her head, and smearing breakfast into her mass of curls.
Some days the lights are off, but the party next door is going loud and strong.
And some days?
They just feel bad.
I think......Christmas isn't supposed to be like this.

Other days the sun is shining, and the news the world over is looking just a little bit more cheery.
The baby goes right down for a nap, and the three-year-old remembers to take herself to the potty BEFORE she has an accident, and the big kiddos are enjoying themselves with Monopoly and crafts.
The lights are on, and the water is flowing, and the noise outside is quite bearable.
And those days?
They feel good.
I think......Christmas is supposed to be like this.

But is this how I'm supposed to view this time of year?
Good if all is good for me & Bad if all is bad for me?

I've chosen for my quiet time this December to follow the red thread of Christmas hope from Genesis to Jesus.
And, oh, how it has changed my point of view.
A story that starts with sin and pain, but with a promise, too.
It weaves through so much sorrow: the Flood judgment, more than one barren woman, a human sacrifice, hatred between siblings, a harlot, a widow.
But strung on that scarlet cord are beads of hope.

And on the seemingly good days and the seemingly bad days, I can dwell on the truth of Christmas...
Jesus came for me.
He came to make all the days,
and feeling are only *that*,
and I can live in HOPE.
Hope that.....
tomorrow may be better or worse, but He'll be right with me, because He never changes.
Hope that....
His mercies are new every morning, and no matter what comes my way, He is faithful.
Hope that.....
He knows what is best for me, and is working all things for my good and His glory.

So along with my other Christmas decorations, I hang the most beautiful one there is: the garland of hope, ever reminding me of Jesus.

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Holiday Season with Meaning: The Advent Box

*After sharing our family gift giving tradition, I was happily surprised by how much it resonated with so many of you! In hopes of this being a blessing, I thought I'd share another tradition our family has grown into over the years........our Advent Box.

As a little girl, we had two advent calendars. One was fabric and had a little mouse that was moved from pocket to pocket {after much arguing over whose turn it was} every day leading up to Christmas, and one was a cardboard calendar with windows that were opened every day, and a Scripture that told part of the Christmas story.
That was what I knew of advent.

As I got older, I remember seeing the giant Advent wreath with its pink and purple candles outside the nearby Lutheran church every Christmas.
I had a friend who had a felt strip with a piece of candy tied on for each day leading up to Christmas as her advent calendar.
When I became an adult, I started seeing all kinds of ideas for advent calendars: some were wooden boxes with doors hiding treats inside, some were rows of stockings, some were garlands of tiny gifts, some were Lego, and some were stickers.
Many of them were cute, but I didn't quite understand the point of getting a gift every day until Christmas......when you'd get a bunch more gifts.

Then in the mail one year, my mom sent us our old cardboard Advent calendar.
We had decided that we really wanted the focus of our Christmas to be about Jesus, so we started there.
The more I looked, the more I found ways to prepare our hearts and minds for the celebration of the coming {which is what advent means!} of the Christ-Child......

Cardboard Calendars {open a window every day}
The Advent Book {a family heirloom with giant doors to open}
A Wooden Wreath {light a candle a day as Mary winds her way to Bethlehem}
The Jesse Tree {the Christmas story from Creation to Christ ~ lots of variations, including several from Ann Voskamp, and the Names of Jesus ornaments}

I also found lots of ideas about fun things to do as a family during the days leading up to Christmas.
Some people included Christmas activities, some included acts of service.
Some read Christmas books.
{If you are looking for ideas, just go to Pinterest!}
As is often the case with me, I tend to go overboard when trying something new.....
we had one year when I had five different printables for the girls to color.....every.single.day.
{including a toilet paper roll nativity....yeah.}

But we've finally settled into what works for our family:  the Advent Box.

In our simply decorated box I include the Jesse Tree ornament to be hung and a card telling what activity we are going to do that day {if we are doing one},  fun surprises {if there are any}, and how many books are to be opened and read together.

The box is simple, but it does exactly what we are hoping for.
It turns our eyes to the Saviour we are celebrating, encourages family memory-making, and sets the tone we desire for the Christmas season.

So I'm curious......
Do you have any advent calendar memories from your childhood?
And do you have a way of counting down to Christmas with your own family?
I'd love to hear!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thank You, Lord......

Thank you, Lord, for filling my cup to overflowing....
For giving me more goodness and blessing than I can bear.

Thank you that the ugly can be made beautiful.

Thank you for miracles, like the oil pot that kept filling other jugs, no matter how many times it was poured out.

Thank you for fruits found by the wayside ~ the unexpected gifts as we journey life's roads.

Thank you for the tiny blessings, waiting to unfurl as we take the time to notice them.

Thank you for a change of scenery, the mountains that declare your strength.

Thank you for new roads to travel, knowing You go with us.

Thank you for stately trees that point to You, their amazing Creator.

Thank you for shades of color, each one a reflection of your beauty.

Thank you for sharing your infinite imagination with us, as you made creature after creature.

Thank you for eyes that can marvel at your world.

Thank you for the moments to stop and wonder.

Thank you for the laughter that fills our hearts and mouths as we experience something new.

Thank you for clouds and sky and the gifts You generously shower on us before we even ask.
Thank you, for always being before us, and continually being behind us, and constantly covering us with your mighty hand.
Thank you, Lord.

Wishing you a beautiful time of giving thanks with those God has blessed you with!

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Holiday Season with Meaning: Giving Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh + the Family Stocking

*I was a bit hesitant to share this, simply because there are so many ways to celebrate Christmas in a Christ-honoring fashion that I didn't really know if one more was necessary. But recently, I've had several people ask me what we do for gifts for our family, so I thought I'd put it here for anyone who was interested.....

The Christmas after Ghana's first mall was built in the capital was not pretty.
Up to that point, buying anything nice for Christmas gifts was outrageously expensive.
Plus, we were a young couple with one baby.
Christmas, up to that time, had been pretty quiet affairs.
But then the mall got built,.......
and availability of toys went up,......
and prices of toys went way down,.......
and we now had a five-year-old and a two-year-old,......
and some of the stores accepted credit cards,.......
and we went hog-wild.
That's an embarrassing admission, but totally true.
{And necessary for the rest of this to make sense.}

John and I couldn't wait 'til Christmas morning!
I thought our girlies eyes would pop out of their heads when they came into the front room.
There were packages everywhere!
But something strange happened.
About a third of the way into the gift-opening, the girls started flagging, and by two-thirds of the way through, they were getting grumpy, and by the last few, one if not both of the girls were crying.
By the time everything was opened, they just sat there dazed, until one of them started playing with the torn shreds of wrapping paper.
It was too much.
It was our worst Christmas ever.

The next Christmas was a bit better, but we still were drifting, unsure of exactly what we wanted our Christmas as a family to look like.
One day I stumbled across an idea {I'm not even sure where now} that seemed like what our family had been searching for.
I ran it by hubby, and he agreed.
We shared the idea with the kiddos to get them used to it, and then the next Christmas we made the switch.
It was our first best Christmas as a family,
and every year since then has just gotten better!

Since the idea of giving gifts at Christmas can be traced to the gifts brought by the Wise Men, we used that as our pattern.
Now each family member gets three gifts:  gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Gold is a gift of great value.
We take our time during the year thinking about the one nice thing that the individual would really like.
An instrument to learn to play. A collection of games. A bike. A trip.

Frankincense is a spiritual gift.
Anything that can encourage Christian growth is included in frankincense.
A Bible. A devotional. A notebook. A Christian biography. A book by a favorite Christian author. A Patch the Pirate CD.

Myrrh is a gift for the body.
As this is a gift for the body, it is quite broad.
New clothes. New shoes. A Piece of Jewelry. Perfume. A coat.

We also have a Family Stocking.
On our first furlough, John's family gave us Christmas in July before we returned to the field.
Our family was given one giant stocking.

Our family stocking holds gifts for the whole family.
New family movies. Board games. Card games. Lego sets. Craft supplies. Shadow Puppets.
Anything the family can enjoy together!

We enjoy our Christmases so much more now than we did before.
Our gifts have meaning, Christmas doesn't break the bank, and it helps turn our eyes off of the 'stuff ' and onto enjoying celebrating Christ's birth as a family!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

For the Days When You Can't Make the Pieces Fit Together....

I once thought my life would be all put together when I became an adult.
And when I became an adult?
I decided that it would be all neatly fitted together when I got married....
when I got to the mission field......
when I became a mama......
when I learned the language.....
when the kids got a little older......

But instead I found out that no moment, no single day made me into what I was supposed to be.

I remember my call to the mission field.
It was a hard-fought battle, and thankfully, I lost.
I knew I wasn't ready to be a missionary, but I also knew that He who had called me would faithfully prepare me to go.
Somewhere along the way, though, that truth slipped from my grasp.
It started out well enough.....
"If I just learn _____________, I'll be ready and prepared to go serve the Lord anywhere!"

But each time I filled in the blank?
Well, then I thought of something else.
I needed to learn to teach children.
I needed to learn basic first aid.
I needed to learn how to teach English as a Second Language.
I needed to learn how to sew, kill a chicken, fix a car, paint a house, draw, knit, write, illustrate, translate.....
the list just continued to grow.

I wanted to cram it all in ~ every bit of knowledge I could ~ so I could be a good missionary.
But then one day, it was time to get on the plane......
and I wasn't ready.
I didn't know enough.

We got to the field, and we were young, and we didn't know enough.
In fact, we found out we didn't really know anything.....
nothing that would help us survive a brand new life in a foreign place.
A few hard months in, when every dream I had about being a missionary was shattered in pieces, and I was scared to walk out my front door, truth finally broke free in my soul.
I could never know enough or be enough.
I had to trust the One Who Was Already Enough to give me what I needed.

And so it began.
As I surrendered to the lessons, He taught me.
He wouldn't force anything on me.
It was my choice.
But as I chose to learn the hard things, He gave me what I needed.
One tiny thing at a time.

My life became a simple cord in the hands of the Master Jeweler.
It was His to string as He saw fit.
Some days the lesson beads of life have been beautiful, bold, vibrant.
Other times, they've been beads carved by trials and pressures.

Some of my lessons have been formed just like the glass beads ~
first the breaking, then scorching heat, melting to the point of destruction, and finally cooling time alone, before anything beautiful can be ascertained.

Spaced among these lessons have been gifts:  pendants of great beauty that I never expected, never dreamed could be a part of my life.
Yet, there they are ~ shining testimonies of the genius of the Artist.

Some days the strand doesn't seem enough.
Inadequate, I'm sure.
On those days, I must rest solely in my Designer.
He is stringing my life with the bead lessons I need, and when He is finished, it will be an ornament of His grace, a testimony to my Creator.
A life formed by the hand of the Master Craftsman.

*We had the amazing opportunity to visit the Bead Market in Koforidua last week. It's the largest bead market in West Africa and is held every Thursday at Jubilee Park.