Friday, December 30, 2011

Advent - It's Not Really Over

It's that time of year - Christmas has come and gone, and the New Year is a couple of days away. I have read and heard countless people lamenting the end of the Christmas season, as well as those who are reflecting back on the past year while setting goals and making plans for the year to come. A couple of days ago, after hearing about the "after Christmas" letdown many people experienced, I realized that this year I didn't experience even a hint of it. I began overthinking mulling that over and then talking to God about it, wondering what was different this year as opposed to years past. And although I didn't hear His voice, I am certain He revealed to me this answer to my question.

For some reason, our society (I include myself in that as a chief participant) tries to manufacture a sense of "magic" during the Christmas season - a Hallmark Movie/Card emotional reaction to things we make up and have convinced ourselves are the best part of Christmas. We create a sense of anticipation around what is under the tree and what we will unwrap on Christmas morning. And when the anticipation reaches it crescendo, we laugh and take pictures and video at 4 a.m. as our children/grandchildren or other special people in our lives tear through gift after gift. But when all of the candy is eaten, the stockings are laid flat across the room, and the wrapping paper is stuffed into a giant garbage bag, we feel as empty as the space under the tree. And here's why--even the largest gifts, the most beautiful wrapping paper, and the excited frenzy of those moments don't give us a glimpse into the real wonder of Christmas. 

Now, don't get me wrong. If you love Santa, give gifts, and cherish the child-like moments of Christmas, I am not trying to heap guilt on your head. I have been where you are, and I am not claiming to have the answer to the best way to celebrate Christmas. But what I can share is my experience. We like to build gingerbread houses, bake Christmas cookies, decorate our tree, and put out our Dickens Christmas Village set. We enjoy watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and drinking hot chocolate together while singing Christmas carols. These are some of our family traditions, and we continued them this year. However, we began some new "purposeful" Christmas activities and made a point to center our wonder upon the love of God come down, the Christ who put on human flesh because God loved us and didn't want to leave us in our state of sin and despair.

And here's what we learned: the manufactured magic never stacks up against the awestruck wonder of knowing that the God whose very breath was breathed into Adam, who created galaxy upon galaxy and set the stars in the heavens, that same God who is bigger and greater and mightier than all of the stars in the Universe, that He put on flesh and became one of us. We who live on this tiny dot of a planet in this small solar system, in a galaxy on the edge of the vast Universe, we became the beneficiaries of His wondrous love and amazing grace, the recipients of the presence of infinite God come to finite man. And the wonder of that tiny baby who was the God of the Universe and the King of Kings never diminishes. Christmas may come and go, but the wonder of the Christ who we celebrate remains with us each day when we know that the baby born among the animals in a barn in Bethlehem became our Savior on the cross and our Risen Lord, whose presence can still be known to us when we experience the grace and love of Immanuel, God with us. That wonder brings hope the day after Christmas and the day after that and all of our days.

This year, while focusing on the wonder of His presence, we didn't just see Christmas as Jesus' birthday, but considered what that should mean in our lives -- do we give each other huge gifts on someone else's birthday or do we give the honoree gifts? And how does it look to give gifts to Jesus? Many people have blogged much more eloquently about these questions and the answers they have discovered for their families, but I know that the orphan, the widow, the lonely, the sick, the vulnerable, are near to God's heart as shown in countless scriptures. One verse I discovered this year is Proverbs 19:17 "Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord..." Even though our family has experienced some great difficulty in the area of job and finances this year, we are still wealthy compared to most of the rest of the world. So, it became clear to us that God was leading us to give as he led to those who are in great need. There is such joy in giving, not just out of abundance, but out of need. And God blesses and uses even the smallest gifts given out of obedience to Him.

So, the joy and wonder we experienced this Christmas and are still experiencing today are wrapped up in the love of God, the gift of Himself and His presence. Advent traditions for year may be over, but Advent is alive and well as we rejoice that He has come and will come again.

May this New Year bring to you the wonder and joy of knowing God in the person of Jesus Christ and experiencing His presence through His Spirit living in you!

Loving, Learning, Rejoicing, and Longing for His coming again,

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent - This Year

This year, I have debated doing a Christmas letter, a Christmas card, or working with the big kiddos to create a family newsletter as one of their end of the semester school projects. We may still do a newsletter in January, because it will be a great project for them. But it will be more focused on specific things they are learning and their observations on our family's life in 2011. As we continue to prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ through our family Advent worship and some fun and purposeful activities and events this season, I am reflecting upon this past year and some of the things we have learned as a family. So, in lieu of an official Christmas card or letter, I am going to share some of what we have learned in hopes of bringing you a little encouragement. At the end of the post, you will find some photo highlights of our year. Some of them are not the best quality. There would have been video and a slide show with more pictures, but alas, most of them were lost on either: A) my laptop hard drive that was fried in the summer OR B) my micro SD card contained in my mobile phone that was stolen 3 weeks ago! So, bear with me as the words will be much more abundant than the photos (which if you ever read my blog you know is typical of my posts, anyway).

In 2011...

We have learned that following God's plan for your life doesn't mean you will have a fairytale ending in all situations. In fact, following Christ means that we will experience suffering and hardship. This year, we have learned (and are still learning each day) to let go of our self-reliance, our self-righteousness, and our self-focus and cling desperately to God in realization of our need for His grace to make it through each moment of each day.
"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:7-11
We have learned to be more cheerful givers, more cheerful receivers, and to give out of need, not just out of abundance. We have accepted help and gifts of time, service, and money from others, when once we would never have thought of needing or accepting those things. We have seen the beauty of the Body of Christ in so many believers around us and in our brothers and sisters from around the world. We have experienced being at the receiving end of believers giving out of love for Christ, as well as have been a part of giving to others when God has called, even if it was the smallest of gifts.
"For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.  Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,  so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality." Romans 12:3-13 
We have experienced a deeper understanding of loving a child from a hard place, and have known the wonder of experiencing life through the joyful attitude of our special needs sunshine. There are many perspectives on adoption, some very positive and some extremely negative, from adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents, and others involved in the process. Our experience has been that adoption is a gift and parenting an adoptive child is both wonderful and hard.  Adoption is how our precious youngest child came into our lives. We love him as deeply and fully as we do our two biological children, and are beyond grateful for God's providence that allowed us to become his family. Adoption has also brought us to a deeper trust in and understanding of God's amazing love for us as shown by making us His daughters and sons. Adoption is about parenting and loving a child for life, and we are certainly blessed that God chose us to be Anderson's family.
The words of an adoptive mother with 7 children say it much better than I can:
 "Because let me tell you something: If you are intrigued by the idea of adoption, with the crescendoing storyline and happy airport pictures and the sigh-inducing family portrait with the different skin colors and the feely-feel good parts of the narrative, please find another way to see God's kingdom come.
You cannot just be into adoption to adopt; you have to be into
parenting. And it is hard, hard, intentional, laborious work. Children who have been abused, abandoned, neglected, given away, given up, and left alone are shaken so deeply, so intrinsically, they absolutely require parents who are willing to wholly invest in their healing; through the screaming, the fits, the anger, the shame, the entitlement, the bed-wetting, the spitting, the rejection, the bone-chilling fear. Parents who are willing to become the safe place, the Forever these children hope for but are too terrified to believe in just yet. But "yet" is a powerful word in the context of faith, if we are indeed to believe in the unseen and hope for what has not materialized.
I followed a God into this story who heals and redeems, who restores wasted years and mends broken places. This God specializes in the Destroyed. I've seen it. I've been a part of it. I have His ancient Word that tells of it. I love a Jesus who made reconciliation his whole mission. My children will not remain broken. They are loved by too good a Savior. I will not remain exhausted and spent. I am loved by too merciful a Father." -- Jen Hatmaker,
After the Airport

We have learned that even though we long to be a part of something "huge" for God's kingdom, sometimes the most radical choices we make are to be faithful and deny our selves in order to glorify God as we go about our moments and days. It takes surrender and trust in the smallest moments, too--not just surrender in the "big" decisions.  We are asking God for and learning by grace to have hearts of thankfulness, obedience, and surrender in the now, even as we wait for answers to some of our big questions for what is to come.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:25-34
We have experienced these truths in the midst of hardship:  God is faithful. God is good. God loves us. God is gracious. God is merciful. God provides. God is at work. God is Sovereign. He is real and He is who His word says He is. He works for our good in all things. No matter the circumstance, He does not change. Our feelings may tell us otherwise, our pain may shake our belief in these truths. But we choose to believe, because we know and have experienced deeply His father love and are forever changed by knowing and being loved by the One who created us, spoke the earth into existence, and formed the universe from nothing.
 "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39
 "Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, 'I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!'"Mark 9:24

 We have learned that laughter and joy can exist even in times of great difficulty. Here are some of our "fun" photos from this past year.  I don't know if we laughed more than usual, but we certainly took time to stop, to be grateful, and just to "take in" those moments of fun and joy.
Our first outside pic of 2011-this was the one of many hours spent outside throughout the year!
Anderson's Birthday Breakfast March 21 - Powdered Donuts

Alex having fun in the Vines' annual St. Patrick's Day Parade

Aerin's "eyeless" grin at the Biscuits game in May

Anderson and Daddy watch the St. Patrick's Day festivities

The big kiddos with their cousin at the park

Celebrating America's Birthday July 4th

This is one of those rare moments
(all 3 quiet and asleep) - I had to take a picture

One of our new family activities for this year - Letterbox hunting in September

Mommy and Anderson at VBS in July

Just let him eat cake (with chocolate icing)!

Alex with his 4th grade class at our church's W3 dress up night

Indian princess Aerin singing her first solo ever
at our CAP homeschool co-op feast December 2011

Our family with Judge Martin on Anderson's adoption finalization day.
It was National Adoption Day--November 18, 2011

If you have stayed this long (or you scrolled down just to see the photos), thank you! From our family to yours, we wish you a Christmas filled with the joy and wonder of celebrating God's love come down at Christmas - Jesus. And we hope for you and your family a 2012 filled with the presence of God as you live His purposes and will for your lives. We pray first that you would come to love and know your Creator by His grace demonstrated in Christ's life, death, and resurrection and your faith in Jesus Christ as our only way to have a relationship with a holy God. If you do not have assurance that you are a follower of Christ or you have any questions about what we believe and why, please email me at . We would love to talk with you further. 

Merry CHRISTmas,

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent - Laugh

We are using Ann Voskamp's Jesse Tree Advent Family Devotional series (info on how to download it is here on her site) for our family's Advent celebration and worship this year. And a couple of days ago, the title to one of the daily devotional readings was "Laugh!". The reading focused upon God's promise to Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child, even in their old age, after Sarah had been barren for years. Sarah declared after Isaac was born that "God has made me laugh" (Genesis 21:6, NCV) and that all those who heard would laugh with her. And don't we today have even more reason to laugh and be filled with joy at the coming of the Jesus, the beautiful babe whose life brought joy and hope to all the world?

If you read my last post, we focused on worshipping in our sorrow and crying out to God with expectant hope for His coming again even as we grieve our losses and pain in this life.  And at our house, we have shed some tears already this Christmas season - tears of loss and hurt, tears for friends and family in real pain, tears for the suffering of so many others we see. But we laugh and love around here, too! And it seems so strange that moment by moment, sorrow over sin and hurt can walk hand in hand with joy in the knowing we have the love of a Father who sent Jesus. A Father who gives us the gift of Himself and His love over and over each day in the smallest and largest moments of grace. Sorrow and joy do walk hand in hand. And even as we ache for what has been, what will not be, or what is lost, we reach for Who is to come, and we are a people filled with joy because we know the love of a Savior who came and the care of a Father who is with us. So, I wanted to share some reasons we have laughed this Advent season, and to let you know that I pray for joy and laughter to find you every day of Advent, even if your sorrow looms great or your loss still wounds deeply.

Our laughter moments over the last few days:
Little girl doing an impression of Rudolph by getting down on all fours and lifting her head slightly, saying "Blink, Blink"!

The sunshine laughing hysterically (and so making us all laugh with him) as his big brother pretends to fall down  in slow motion with a big "OOOOOOhhhhhhh".

Daddy reading aloud chapters from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever - too many laughing moments to list. This one is second on my list of must reads this year if you have young children (the first, of course, is the Christmas story - as told in many places in scripture, and is especially beautiful in the Gospel of Luke).

My laughter and joy at hearing Little Girl and Superhero make a list of gifts to give away from the Samaritan's Purse Gift Catalog. It was difficult for them to narrow it down to 10 items! Oh, how God speaks to me through my children.

May you find you find the laughter and music of joy this Advent!

Loving, Longing, and Laughing,

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Advent - The Coming

So, the first days of my Advent blogging have been non-existent. There has been a little craziness, a lot of sickness, and very little sleep at our house over the last few days, but I am back on the blog wagon today and hoping to be more consistent from now until Christmas.

As I approached this season, I have tried to plan more, be better prepared, and reflect upon how our family can "do Christmas" without focusing upon the trappings and craziness of the culture we live in (because honestly, I don't really even like most of those trappings), while still focusing upon the anticipation of Christ's coming as our ultimate hope. One result of this is just to ponder and wonder at the hope we have in Christ because He came. The hope of Christmas is real, even though it is a brief chapter in an amazing love story that our Creator has been writing since the beginning of time. He left the beauty and glory of His throne. He put on our skin. He came to bear the weight of our shame, our guilt, our flesh. He breathed the very air of the human condition, our sin sickness. And He bore all of our darkness, hopelessness, sadness, fear, guilt, evil, and decay as He died in separation from His Father, our Father. And He did this because of LOVE; great love for you and for me. That makes me want to sing, cry, shout, and hang my head in realization of my unworthiness even as He raises my face to tell me I have been clothed in His righteousness. As the Israelites of the Old Testament groaned and prayed and anticipated the coming of the Messiah, we can rejoice that He has come. He is Immanuel, God with us. And He Is. And His Spirit dwells within us who have become His followers.

And here's what I think. We can shout God's glory with the angels, we can stand in wonder with the shepherds, we can seek Him as the wise men did, and like Mary, we can "ponder" in our hearts the amazing love and grace that came at the miracle of His birth.  But Advent means coming, and we not only worship when we celebrate His coming more than 2000 years ago as a baby in a manger. We also worship when we hurt and ache and reach and long for Him to come again, to make all things new.

So we can grieve at the brokenness of this world even as we rejoice in the fact that He has come and will come again. And we can grieve all that is not or will not be here in our broken world, because it makes us cry out to Him "Come"--come into my moments, my days, my life, my family, my world. And as our longing for Him deepens, we grieve and we share and we speak into the lives of other people who hurt, proclaiming the Hope of His coming and His coming again, offered to us all. Advent is a beautiful thing, even if the only way you can manage to celebrate it this year is by asking Him to come and heal as you cry and grieve. And that healing may not come at Advent, but He will come to you even as you hurt. Because even if the sorrow of the night is where you are and the worship of grief and pain is all you have to bring to Him this Advent season, when you whisper "Come" to the Great God of the universe, I pray that this will be real to you and you will know:

He has.
 our Redeemer and Lord.
He does.
 our Father and Friend.
He will.
 the King of Kings.

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus - Christy Nockels with Chris Tomlin

Loving and Longing for His Coming,

About Me

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I love Jesus Christ, am a seeker of beauty, and am a grateful child of God who would be lost and hopeless were it not for His grace. I am learning to walk in love, see interruptions as divine appointments, and value people and relationships above agendas and results. I pray my life is grace-filled, and brings joy and encouragement to everyone I know and meet. We are a family of 6, built by God through love, birth, and adoption, living in the beauty and the struggle that accompanies parenting kids from hard places. Got questions? Email me at

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