Tag Archives: Christmas

When someone loves you…

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Once upon a time, I found this cute list of things little kids said about Love.  I think their simplicity is so precious… and sometimes humorous.  We could benefit from some of these reminders about how to really love someone.  I want to grow old with my husband, and at the end, to feel that I have loved really well.  I don’t believe in keeping regrets.  I leave the past alone.  But taken as a whole, I want to feel that I’ve loved with all my heart and been loved in return.

When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different.  You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.  Billy age 4

Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.  Karl- age 5

Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French Fries without making them give you any of theirs.  Chrissie- age 6

Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.  Terri- age 4

Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is right.  Danny- age 7

Love is when you kiss all the time.  Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more.  Emily- age 8

Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.  Bobby- age 7

If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend you hate.  Nikko- age 6

Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it every day.  Noelle- age 7

Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.  Tommy- age 6

Mommy loves me more than anybody.  You don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.  Clare- age 6

Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.  Elaine- age 5

Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Brad Pitt.  Chris- age 7 (This one made me laugh.)

Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.  Marianne- age 4

I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.  Lauren- age 4

When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.  Karen- age 6

You really shouldn’t say “I love you” unless you mean it.  But if you mean it, you should say it a lot.  People forget.  Jessica- age 8

This weekend, make a concerted, focused effort to tell someone you love them.  You might think that they should already know, but tell them anyways.  Say it first, don’t wait for them to say it to you.  And while you’re at it Guys, here’s a tip for you:  She wants hear WHY you love her too.  It makes the “I love you” special instead of generic.  Make an effort to love well.

The Purge

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Well, it’s post-Christmas and it’s time to find new homes for all those new Christmas presents that our kids received.  Try as we might, it is impossible not to accumulate stuff. I really do try to live a more spartan existence than most Americans simply because I don’t want to repack all my junk after a few years.  Moving a lot keeps you clean.  I hate clutter.

I’ve noticed in talking to other missionaries that our experience is not unique.  When the Lord was leading us into missions, the first indication that some kind of change was on the horizon was this strange “Urge to Purge”.  We suddenly started feeling like our possessions were bogging us down.  It was like having rocks in your pocket when you’re trying to fly.  Stuff was holding us down.

So I started giving stuff away… and it felt really good.  The more I gave my things away, the lighter I felt.  I was disconnecting myself from the things of this world.  I have always been a pretty practical girl, but now I became militant about practicality.  If something did not have a purpose, it had to go.

We had a big garage sale.  Turning your house inside out is a useful activity.  It forces you to confront the back of your closets.  For example, I didn’t think I had very many baskets but in emptying the closet I counted 20 baskets that had collected there- relics of gifts that people had given us.  TWENTY!!  Clearly I had lost track of my possessions a long time ago and didn’t even realize it.

This Urge to Purge is a common experience for soon-to-be missionaries.  I think it’s a survival mechanism that the Lord activates in us as He prepares us to be stripped of everything, starting with our possessions.  But the crazy thing is that it’s an amazing feeling!  Being freed from your STUFF is an experience that I would like to GIFT to everyone.  But it’s hard to convince people to let go.  Just because you have stuff doesn’t mean you are the owner of stuff- stuff can own YOU!

So now the work begins of finding space for the new Barbies and books that came home with us.  It’s a good chance to clean out the old things that the kids haven’t played much with this year.  I will be looking for a few sweet kids who would like to receive some gently used toys, and we will make our joy complete through giving.

Back to Real Life

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We head back to Costa Rica again on Monday.  We took the full 3 weeks of Christmas vacation to come back this year because we had the Missions Convention and a full load of services to do… it’s our job.  But we are ready to get home.  As you read this, I will be waiting to board a plane with our children and way too many pieces of luggage.

When we get home, the kids and I go right to school the next day.  I wish we could have given ourselves a buffer of a few days, but it just didn’t work out.  I would like to have taken down the Christmas tree and unpacked before we hit the ground running.  My husband feels no need for a buffer zone.  He just plows through life like it’s a football game.  I, on the other hand, I need time to recharge my batteries (and that didn’t happen much during vacation.)  Maybe I’ll schedule my 5th graders for a nap time tomorrow.  🙂

So being back home has been worth the work to get there, but I’m ready to get back to real life.  I’m ready to get back to my own bed… no more air mattress on the floor in the basement.  I’m ready to have more than 3 changes of clothing to choose from.  I’m ready to not be cold anymore.  I’m ready to speak Spanish again (though I’ll be rusty for the first few days.)  And I’m ready to be back at school again.

Time to get back to real life- and it’s a good life.

On Holiday

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Just a little blog talk this morning.  I wanted you to know that I will be taking the next week off from posting blogs to spent Christmas with my family… and I hope you do too!  I will be back to blogging again on Monday, December 31.  Oooh, the last day of the year!  So I’ll see you next week.  Enjoy your holiday!

xmas tree

Joy in a Feeding Trough

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In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to his own town to register.  So Joseph also went up from the town of Galillee in Nazareth to Judea, to Bethlehem because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.  And she gave birth to her first-born, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flocks by night.  Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shown around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you.  This shall be a sign to you, you will find the babe wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of heavenly hosts appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest!  And on earth, peace to those on whom his favor rests!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heard.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

(Luke 2:1-20)

There is no Grinch.  There is no Santa Claus.  There are no reindeer, no elves, no talking snowmen.  There is no tree, no wish list, no long lines at the cash registers.  There is no greed.  There is no family feuding.  There is no drunken office party.  This, and only this, is the true meaning of Christmas.  A Savior has been born to us.  We are offered a peace-child, a covenant between us and God.  Forgiveness.  “The Bread of Life” was laid in a feeding trough.  And we feast!  Now go and tell everyone what you have seen and heard!

What?!? No Christmas?

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snow globeI handed my friend Marcela the pretty little package wrapped in simple Christmas paper.  Inside was a snow globe.  As she tipped the globe, the figurine of a snowman clad in a red scarf smiled out at her through a curtain of glittery snow.

“Oooooh, I love it!  Just LOVE IT!”  She squealed with delight.  I was glad she liked the Christmas present.  We stood beside my tall Christmas tree that she had been eyeing with pleasure all evening.  “You know, when I was a child my parents were pastors.  The Christian church used to be very conservative back then.”  She commented as she fingered an ornament on the tree.  “And we never, ever decorated for Christmas because we were always concerned about what people would say.”

I must have had a confused look on my face because she expounded further on her parents’ conservative views.  Marcela’s family never had a Christmas tree.  They never mentioned the Nativity story.  And they never gave each other presents.  Apparently here in Costa Rica many Christians still view Christmas as a Catholic or pagan holiday, depending on their own prejudices.  Many families that have converted from Catholicism to Protestantism have completely rejected anything that even appears in the Catholic tradition.

While my friend talked, I remember a missionary from several years ago telling me that she collected Nativity sets.  But she always had to put them away whenever a Costa Rican family came over to her house because the Nativity was considered part of the Catholic symbolism.  My own Nativity set was sitting on a side table in plain sight.

Marcela continued her story.  She said she would always go over to her friends’ houses and lovingly admire their trees and lights, but her parent’s wouldn’t budge in their decision not to decorate.  So when she got married, she decided, “I am an adult now.  I’m going to make my own decisions, and I don’t care what people think!  I love Christmas, and I’m going to decorate.”

She and her husband married in October.  Her first major purchase was to buy a Christmas tree!  The first year they decorated together, and it was a novelty for both of them.  The second year he said, “You’re going to put that up AGAIN?” and he lost interest in helping her decorate.

This is their third year of marriage.  They are currently sharing a very tiny apartment above the church with her in-laws who are also the pastors now.  When she decorated their tiny apartment with a little tree and lights around the window, her in-laws were less than thrilled.  “Hmm,” her father-in-law sniffed, “I feel like I’m living in a department store.”

So now I understood her great joy in receiving a pretty little ornament that she probably never would have bought for herself.  Their family still does not celebrate Christmas… no gifts, no traditions, no decorations.  But my friend is doing her best to keep up her Christmas cheer.

The whole thing is so sad to me because Christmas is meant to be for everyone!  No denomination owns Christmas.  The angel who announced the birth of Jesus our Lord said, “I bring you good news of great joy that is to be for all men!”  Christmas is meant to be for everyone, because salvation is meant to be for everyone as well.  The birth of our Savior is the true reason for Christmas.

The Worry of the Christmas Season

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Christmas season is a busy time.  I was looking at the calendar yesterday and feeling the panic rising up in my mind.  So much to do!  I’m worried that I will forget to do something.  The season becomes stressful and we wish we had more time.

The business of our life leaves little room for the source of our life.  God gives us time, but who has time for God?  Here are some thoughts to help you manage the feelings of stress and business during the holidays.  I hope they help you to slow down and savor the moments you have with your family and friends.

I don’t take credit for these thoughts.  They come from “One Thousand Gifts”, by Ann Voskamp either as a direct quote where indicated or a summary of ideas:

When asked what was his most profound regret, the pastor answered, “Being in a hurry.  Getting to the next thing without fully entering the thing in front of me.  I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry.  But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all the rushing .  Through all that haste I thought I was making up time.  It turns out that I was throwing it away.”

In a world addicted to speed, we race for more and snag on time and leak empty.  The longer we keep running, the longer the gash, and we drain, bleed away.  Hurry always empties a soul.

“Time is a relentless river.  It rages on, a respecter of no one.  And this, this is the only way to slow time:  When I fully enter time’s swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I can slow the torrent be being all here.  I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment…I slow and enter.  And time slows.  Weigh down this moment in time with attention full, and the whole of time’s river slows, slows, slows… Wherever you are, be all there.

We can only interact with God in the present.  Though He exists in the past, present and future, WE can only be with him in the present and he calls himself the Great I AM.  When I am present, I meet I AM, the very presence of a present God.  In his embrace, time loses all sense of speed and stress and space and stands so still and holy.

And now this is taken from Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young

Trust me and refuse to worry, for I am your Strength and Song.  You are feeling wobbly this morning, looking at difficult times looming ahead, measuring them against your won strength.  However, they are not today’s tasks- or even tomorrow’s.  So leave them in the future and come home to the present, where you will find Me waiting for you.  Since I am your Strength, I can empower you to handle each task as it comes.  Because I am your Song, I can give you Joy as you work alongside Me.

Keep bringing your mind back to the present moment.  Among all my creatures, only humans can anticipate future events.  This ability is a blessing, but it becomes a curse whenever it is misused.  If you use your magnificent mind to worry about tomorrow, you cloak yourself in dark unbelief.  However, when the hope of heaven fills your thoughts, the light of my presence envelops you.  Though heaven is future, it is also present tense.  As you walk in the light with Me, you have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven.

Your future is in My hands; I release it to you day by day, moment by moment.  Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow.  I want you to live this day abundantly, seeing all there is to see, doing all there is to do.  Don’t be distracted by future concerns.  Leave them to Me!  Each day of life is a glorious gift, but so few people know how to live within the confines of today.  Much of their energy for abundant living spills over the time line into tomorrow’s worries or past regrets.  Their remaining energy is sufficient only for limping through the day, not for living it to the full.  I am training you to keep your focus on my presence in the present.  This is how to receive abundant Life, which flows freely form my Throne of Grace.”

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Keep your thoughts in the present and don’t worry about the future.  Be fully present in all you do this season.  Look your loved ones fully in the face when they talk to you and give them your full attention.  Don’t worry about completing all the things on your To-Do list.  Just breathe, and don’t worry.  “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Matthew 6: 34

Before you break your heart

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Heart-BrokenSometimes when the Lord speaks to me, it is in the same tone that I speak to my children.  I know God is treating me like his child, and I need to respond to him as my Heavenly Father.

This last week I sent Teacher Christmas presents to school with all my kids.  My Kindergartener has two teachers, an English teacher in the morning and a Spanish teacher in the afternoon (it’s a bilingual school).  In each gift bag, I packed a cute mug, hot chocolate mix, chocolate covered coffee beans, and a plate of home-made Christmas cookies.  My little one was so excited!  She’s 5 years old, so of course she wanted to carry her own presents to her teachers.  But she’s also short, so for the entire walk from the car to the classroom I was coaching Lulu in my most patient parental voice.  “Pick up your bags, don’t drag them.  Don’t clink your bags on the ground or you’ll break the cups.  Do you want me to carry those for you?  Be careful.  Lift them higher honey.”  Every 2 seconds it was a new instruction.

Now, I’ve mentioned before that this child is an insurance claim waiting to happen.  She is a natural disaster on two feet.  I have FEMA’s emergency number on speed dial.  She’s not malicious or naughty (usually) but she is high-spirited and has inherited her mother’s gracelessness.  So I knew it was a risk to let her carry her presents herself.  Sure enough, my fears proved to be foresight.

The minute she saw her little friend Anika she went running to hug her with a gift bag in each hand.  The arms swung around her little buddy and the bags smashed together behind Anika’s back!  It was all I could do to surpress the disappointed tone in my voice.  I then had to explain to her teachers that she just got too excited and forgot to be careful.  Sorry, here’s your broken coffee cups.  A little Super Glue should do the trick.  I felt so bad, but there was nothing more I could do as a parent to prevent her from breaking the cups aside from carrying them myself.   If she was going to carry them, it was a certainty that she was going to break them.

So last night I had a moment with God when he spoke to me like I was speaking to Lucy on that day.  He said to me in a Fatherly tone, “Give me your heart to hold for you.  Give me your heart before you break it.”  I set my heart on things that are unrealistic, dreams that will never become reality.  I invest my heart in ideas or plans or day dreams or wishes and then I am disappointed when my ideas fall flat.  Father God asked me to give him my heart for safe keeping.  If I were to hold on to it, I would certainly break it.  I have high expectations.  I am constantly getting my hopes up and then they come crashing down to the ground like Lulu’s Christmas cups.  I get all excited and smash my heart to bits.  God says, “Child, let me hold that for you before you break it.”

Now the question is, will I trust him?  Do I really believe that he knows better than I do what is good for me and what is wrong for me?  Am I going to surrender my heart, my dreams and expectations to him?  Am I going to trust my Father with my heart?

Here’s a promise I can trust when I am looking for how to guard my heart.  “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:7

Fringe Benefits: The side of missionary life that doesn’t make newsletters

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A couple years ago I had a Facebook friend that I had to “hide” because her posts were making me so jealous.  Her husband has his own business and she spends her life shopping and lounging on tropical beaches.  But the weird thing was that it wasn’t so much that I envied her life of luxury and leisure- it was that I envied her freedom to share those cool things without being condemned by others.  I figured, my life is just as cool as her life (in different ways) but I don’t feel the same freedom to talk about it like she does.  She doesn’t have supporters back home reading newsletters, I reasoned.  So rather than deal with my own jealousy, I just hid her so I didn’t have to look at her beautiful pictures anymore.

The beach where we spent our best day ever.The truth is that although often times I write about how difficult missionary life can be, most days I wake up and feel like the Luckiest Girl in the World!  Most days I still can’t believe that I GET to live here and to do what I do (When I’m not flying around in a cape saving the world, I’m a mild mannered English teacher).  I feel so blessed and spoiled by my Father God.  I live in a tropical country where the beach is just a 2 hour drive away.  Parrots fly over my head every morning.  I pass palm trees and people selling tropical flowers and street vendors with trucks full of mangos and Jeeps with surf boards strapped to the roof every day in my commute.  I shiver when the temps drop to 60 degrees Farrenheit.  And my “cup runneth over” with the best coffee in the world!  I live in Costa Rica.  I am a Blessed Girl!

So today I am going to be THAT girl who revels in her wonderful life.  I’m going to write about the best visa trip we ever took.  We used to have to leave the country every 90 days to renew our visas (now we’re in the process of getting our residency- so no more visa trips).  Here in Costa Rica we are bordered by Nicaragua to the North and Panama to the South.  This particular year our visas were coming due in December.  We didn’t have the money to go all the way to Minnesota for Christmas, so we scheduled a trip to Panama during our kids’ Christmas break.  Christmas overseas is not as exciting as Christmas in America.  Tamales and Bull Fights just don’t say “Christmas” to this Minnesota girl.

So since we were feeling “blah” about Christmas we decided to spend a bit of our Christmas money and stay somewhere nice with some of our friends while in Panama.  We chose Bocas del Toro, a string of islands on the Caribbean side of Panama.  On the map it looked like we could take a boat from the last port in Costa Rica directly to the island.  In reality the trip down was more like the deleted scenes from “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”.  Ports were closed, water taxis were hired, busses and taxi vans meant crowding in shared transportation without air conditioning.  Basically the trip down was horrific.  But once we arrived… it was all forgotten.  We found paradise!

We stayed on Playa Tortuga.  With our friends we were two of about 5 other families in the entire hotel.  The rooms were nothing special, but the ocean was literally right at our toes.  I love looking for shells on the beach.  I’ve always dreamed of finding a perfect conch shell.  On this trip I found several small ones right on the beach.  I was thrilled!

Lucy finds Patrick StarOne day we decided to hire a taxi to go to the other end of the island.  From there we hired a water taxi to take us to another island that was famous for it’s giant starfish.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when we arrived at the beach!  There were starfish every few feet!  It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.

Unfortunately about 10 minutes into our stay at Starfish Beach, the children started crying.  There was something sharp and pokey floating around in the water.  It was like fiberglass strands!  They got between our toes and in our swim suits.  We started picking out the slivers (and didn’t stop for the next 2 days).  After about 10 more minutes we couldn’t stand it any more.  We hailed another boat and asked to be taken back to our island.  For the rest of the afternoon we snorkeled and swam and built sand castles on the most perfect secluded beach.  We had the whole place to ourselves.  It was my best day ever!!

That night as we wandered into town to find something to eat we were surprised to find that the town was preparing for a parade, complete with fireworks and “floats” made from pickup trucks and delivery vans, Caribbean music and firefighters tossing candy to the children.  It was fantastic and carefree!  We had so much fun.  What a perfect end to the perfect day, not a bad way to spend Christmas.  Back at home, I have a conch shell that I keep as a reminder of what a Blessed life I lead.  I really am the Luckiest Girl in the World, but that’s a story you’ll never read in our newsletters.