Saturday, December 31, 2011

Our Word for 2011

You know how some people pick a word for their year? Many do this in January, casting out a vision for what they want to devote themselves to that year. Hope. Contentment. Gratitude.

We have a word for 2011. It wasn't a word we picked in January. It's a word we have now as the year is wrapping itself in closure. It's a word that over the last twelve months carved itself into our hearts.

That word is:
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This year we made the biggest leap of faith we've ever made. Bigger, you say, than leaving all we knew five years ago for the unknowns of the Chinese kingdom? Yes. We were just a couple of newly weds ready for an adventure. And we had a fully loaded support account. And we had an organization to hold our hand. And we knew quite clearly that this was God's calling for us.

This year, we left everything we knew for the unknowns of the California kingdom. With a couple of little lives depending on us. And no idea this would work financially. And no one to hold our hand. But we did know quite clearly that this was God's calling for us.

Here's the thing about leaps of faith. When you work up the gumption to actually jump, you hope that you'll quickly be rewarded with the solid feeling of security under your feet again. But when we made this leap, we felt suspended in the air, waiting, waiting … wondering if we would land on our feet or crash on our faces.

And like Peter stepping out of the boat, we began to look at the waves and the wind around us. And like the disciples in the other storm with Jesus asleep in the stern, we cried out,“Lord, don't you care if we drown?!”

But one soggy step at a time, we moved forward. Sometimes up to our necks in doubt, but still moving, still waiting. Every job lead gave us hope, every possibility that fell through brought more swirling doubt. We're ashamed to admit that we even wondered if we'd heard wrong. Was this calling to pursue this degree, this mammoth research not divinely inspired, but conjured up on our own?

Then its own dreadfully slow way, light began to pierce the clouds. A gift and a note of encouragement. More waiting. Another job interview lined up. More waiting. A job! Yet the numbers don't add up. More waiting. Then at last dawn broke open the sky, and grace poured out. A higher salary than promised. An unexpected scholarship. A nine credit hour reduction.  An email to say, "How can I help you financially?"   

Faith became sight. We can see the way for this dream to grow real.

And in the dawn we see the face of the One who held our hand the whole time. A fatherly, knowing grin spreads across His face, as if to say, “I've got you, remember?”

This is how faith grows, through the fog and the waves. And here's the thing. If our story this year had been different, if we had felt a crash instead of the dawn, He STILL would be there holding our hand. And that would have been enough.

Somehow, for some purpose, He is making a way for us to put the pieces of education and experience together to make a tool for Him to use. In the process He is etching faith deeper into our lives. To each of you who have been a part of our story, who have given your encouragement, your support, your prayers, we thank you. You watered our tiny faith seed. And for that there are no words to spell our gratitude.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cake Pops and Other Foods on a Stick

This Christmas season I decided I must break out from the normal array of baked goodnesses and try something new.   After tasting a Starbucks cake pop at a Christmas party, I fell in love with these adorable treats and determined to recreate the chocolaty richness with the festive hint of peppermint for a fraction of the cost.  Understand that I was in China when cake pops first exploded onto the baking scene, so I feel a bit like I've missed the bus.  But I'm gonna drive my own cake pop bus.  Here it is.  

If you've had cake pop flops before, try this video.   My spin on it (or should I say, "My Starbucks copy-cat spin on it):  Chocolate cake, chocolate frosting, dipped in almond bark and sprinkled with crushed candy cane.  Must put them in the freezer vs. fridge before dipping.     

This got me thinking about China (as most things do) and made me think of how much the Chinese love food on a stick.  Here are a few of our favorites:
                                          Lamb on a stick -  Roasted over, mm! 

                                           Pineapple on a stick - fresh, juicy, delish

Seahorses, beetles and scorpions on a stick -  (ok, ok, not really a favorite for us or the Chinese.)

Just something to do so you can say you did it!  And yes, I ate scorpion on a stick too (before kids).   Something about child birth removes the need to do crazy things just to say you did it.  

Could cake pops make it in China?  Probably the one food on a stick that wouldn't fly there.   Too sweet for the Chinese tooth.

I had planned to put a picture of Ellie eating a cake pop.  I handed her one and said, "Here, hold this."  I then went to grab the camera, took a little too long finding the camera, came back and....the cake pop was gone.  Apparently, they were irresistible.  :)  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mary's Story For Me This Year

In some way or another, every Christmas I find myself stepping into Mary's sandals, wondering what it would be to conceive and birth the Son of God.  Just like every other little girl's Christmas pageant dream, I coveted Mary's blue robe.  As a thirteen-year-old girl listening to Mary's song, I remember putting my hand on my stomach, imagining Life inside.  I envisioned the Mary-me saying, "Really, Dad, this is a virgin pregnancy, I promise!"

This year as I advent through this season, I've gathered up some more Mary thoughts and pondered them in my heart. 

This year what strikes me about the Madonna is the transitions she went through to follow out this God breathed plan for her.  Transitions - life uprooting, tear-jerking, hurry-pack-it transitions were a part of her story too.  Nazareth cozy home. Three month hide away with Elizabeth. Bethlehem stanky stable.  Red-eye flight to Eygpt.  Life as the foreigner.  Back home to Nazareth. Home now as a woman, a far cry from the girl that left on the back of a donkey. 

Oh, for a glimpse into the daily blog of Mary during these years.  Or to chat over chai, "How DID you do it?"  

We have no blog.  No papyrus journal.  No Starbucks date.  Just a few quotes and a song.  But what richness in these small glimpses.

Sweet surrender to the overwhelmingly daunting.   "I am the Lord's servant.  May it be to me as you have said."    

This sweet surrender moves a troubled heart and fearful mind to boundless rejoicing and bold strength.  Have you read Mary's song lately, I mean really read it?  It makes you want to stand up and shout, "Preach it, Sister!"  Gone is the timid girl with her water jar whispering "How can this be?"

Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  Living in the now, not missing the wonder, she strung together the pearl of each gift, fingering each one gently.  And when he cried out on the cross, "I am thirsty," she saw the infant nuzzling for her breast.  She clutched those pearls, grasping through her searing pain the promise of Who He Is.

To me this year, the beauty in Mary's story is how God gave her just the pearl she needed, when she needed it most. 

What did God deliver to her along with the rock-my-world-upside-down news of the immaculate conception?  A kindred spirit, a fellow warrior, a someone-who-gets-me, an Elizabeth.  When you think about it, there's really no logistical reason that John and Jesus had to be in utero at the same time.   John could have been a few years older and prepared the way just fine.  I think the dual pregnancies had nothing to do with the boys and all to do with the mamas.  God knew the way he wired women to bond in pregnancy.  Imagine bonding through super-natural pregnancies.  God gave Mary the soul food of friendship, a companion who spoke blessing and joy and truth into Mary to bolster her through what was surely a lonely road ahead. 

And then there was Joseph, that pearl of such worth.  The partner, sustainer, the strong in my weak.  Their hearts He made one, to walk this road through.  With him she was more.  This gift she let go of, in willing submission, He gave back to her with the joy of a Giver.  There he'd be with her stringing pearl after pearl, living out life's messes and marvels.

God gave angel announced worshipers when she was probably lying exhausted in a pile of bloody stinking hay with a torn up old dress of a baby blanket, wondering, "REALLY?  This is supposed to be the Son of God and he's entering the world like THIS??"  (At least, that's what I would have thought.)  But then to look up and see shining shepard faces, eyes all aglow with wonder and awe, voices all hushed, but bursting to shout.  They clamor to tell of the sight they have seen, the symphony heard, the angel dust still falling from their shoulders.  Mary breathes out a wobbly breath into the wisps of His still wet hair.  Yes, yes.  This is exactly how He's entering the world.

Just what she needed, all that she needed, these pearls He provided.   


Saturday, December 3, 2011

My "I'm a Bad Mom" Week

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So you know the post I wrote about wanting to be Super Woman?  And how I'm trying to stop chasing the dream of being her?  Well, last week all illusions that I ever could be her have come crashing down into one big messy pile at my feet. 

Crashing Moment #1: Friday night we left the apartment in a whirlwind.  The kitchen was still a disaster from dinner, but there was no cleaning and getting there on time.  And so I left it all, even the bits of chicken fat on the cutting board.  Gross, I know. We came home to find a thousand ants swarming the cutting board. Gag, gag, shiver and gag.  

Crashing Moment #2: I had all these happy little hopes for our advent activities.  I knew it would be a stretch for Aiden unless he was in the right mood.  Well, he was definitely in the wrong mood on our first day of advent.  I finally got him happily distracted with balls, of course, only to find that the glue was maddeningly nowhere to be found.  Taping took much longer, so that Ellie lost interest.  And when I tried to summarize our little lesson, her contrariness kicked in and she purposefully gave me the opposite answers to my questions.  Me:  "Ellie, Jesus is the what? (Answer: Light)  Ellie:  "The dark!"  Sigh.

The Crashing Series:  It feels as if Ellie and I have been in one long epic battle this past week.  All the dailies of life, the hair brushing, the clothes wearing, the chore doing, the sibling sharing, the "no, you can't do that" become a warring of the wills that wears. me. out.  Did you ever look at someone's kid before you had kids and subconsciously think, "My child will never be that disrespectful or disobedient"?  I did.  I thought discipline + loving affection = good kid.  Turns out it's not so simple.  I'm not saying I think Ellie is a "bad kid."  But she is proving this past week, perhaps more than ever before that rebellion is steeped in her bones.  And I know that just means she's human, a member of the fallen race in need of redemption.  But here's what it feels like:  I'm a bad mom.

I was stuck in the "I'm a bad mom" rut, focusing on all the negative, defeated before the next battle even began.  It was a terrible place to be.  I hate admitting all of this, showing you this big messy pile of my crumpled Super-Mom-Wanna-Be fascade.  But in my commitment to vulnerability, I'm doing it anyway, because I know that it does my heart good to hear that other moms have these weeks too.  That I'm not alone.  Togetherness brings great comfort and hope.

Here are some other truths that are helping me climb out of my rut:

This too shall pass.  I find it easier to handle Aiden's toddler tantrums than I did when Ellie was that age.  I haven't found any magic solution, I just know that there's really only so much you can do until they grow out of it.  They need time to learn how to handle this big world.  Since we haven't passed through preschoolhood yet, it's easy to think this is just the way she is.  Remember, Self, give her the grace to grow through this.

This iron will of hers, this passion that pumps in her blood may very well become her greatest strengths.   

For all the rivalry that exists between my kids, they need each other like a cowboy needs a horse.  Their love is thick and strong.  Aiden's often waking words are "Where Eh-yay?"

Seeds are taking root.  The first thing Ellie does when Daddy walks through the door is show him her advent ornament, chattering on with the complete and correct retelling of the lesson.  

Remember what's worth it.   I could have stayed home to clean up my chicken fat, but instead I chose to go soak up our first taste of American Christmas as a family, relishing in the richness of the old carols, the wonder of candle-lit faces, and the joy of fake snow.  And that was worth a thousand dead ants. 

If I am so focused on the messy pile of failures and frustrations at my feet, I will miss the wonder of it all, the gift of each moment, the sweetness of each kiss, the awe of lives sprouting before my eyes.    

I don't know if my truths do anything for you, but they are helping me.  What do you do on your "I'm a Bad Mom" weeks?  And please tell me you have them too!