Sunday, December 25, 2011

Cradle in Bethlehem

Merry Christmas!

Cradle in Bethlehem

by Alfred Bryan, Larry Stock

Sing sweet and low your lullaby
Till angels say,
A mother tonight is rocking
A cradle in Bethlehem

While wise men follow through the dark
A star that beckons them.
A mother tonight is rocking
A cradle in Bethlehem.

"A little will shall lead them," the
Prophets said of old.
In tempest storms he leads men
Far as the bells is tolled.

Sing sweet and low your lullaby
Till angels say, "Amen."
A mother tonight is rocking
A cradle in Bethlehem

A mother tonight is rocking a cradle in Bethlehem
A mother tonight is rocking her baby in Bethlehem

Jesus ~ the Messiah promised by the prophets of old, the Son of God, the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the Savior, the Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

But before He turned water to wine or healed the blind and lame, before He was baptized by John or was tempted in the desert, before He fed the five thousand and walked on water, before He crossed the Pharisees and was sentenced to death ... He was the sweet baby of Mary.

And today we celebrate His birth.

Thank You for coming, Jesus.  Happy Birthday.


I'm off to play with the kids, try to work on my bright red scarf I started last month, read a good book ... and enjoy Christmas.  See you next week!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's True

Christmas Eve.

The night of anticipation.

The finale of this long winter wait.

The hushed and yet joyful celebration of Jesus's birth.

A simple song that tells the story ... and assures us that it's true.

(You really should hear it for yourself ... her little boy's voice is so sweet.  As are his words.)

It's True
by Sara Groves

In your heart you
Know it's true
Though you hold no expectation
In the deepest part of you
There's an open hesitation

But it's true
Kingdoms and crowns
A God who came down to find you
It's true
Angels on high
Sing through the night alleluya

Heard it told you
Think it's odd
The whole thing fraught with complication
The play begins with
Baby God
And all His blessed implications

But it's true
Kingdoms and crowns
A God who came down to find you
It's true
Angels on high
Sing through the night alleluia

Alleluia, alleluia

Oh it's true
Kingdoms and crowns
A God who came down to find you
It's true
Angels on high

Sing through the night alleluia

Alleluia ... Praise be to God.

Praise be to God that He knew our need for a Savior.

Praise be to God that He willingly gave His Son for us.

Praise be to God that He has redeemed us.

Praise be to God that He has called us friend.

Praise be to God that it's true.


I'm off this week to lounge with a good book, try to finish that scarf I started last month and play with my kids.  I ought to end up with some good stories to share!

See you next year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Born to Die

I have yet to highlight a Christmas song from Bebo Norman.  But now, I can resist no further!  In reality, I could share a little something about every song on his album, Christmas: From the Realm of Glory, but I'll settle for just one.

Hmmmm ... that is after I yammer on about a few of my favorite bits of his other songs.

"Go, Tell it on the Mountain" makes my kids sing loud.  And happily.  When the chorus comes around, they belt out the words and it looks like they might be looking for a mountain to yell from.

"Come and Worship" gives me goosebumps every time.  Every.  Time.  Like right now as it rings out from my iPod on eternal repeat.  A powerful call to worship.

I love his rendition of "What Child is This?".  Another powerful chorus.  When he sings, "haste, haste", it makes me want to be quick to bring my little gift of praise to Jesus.  As in, right now.

His perky "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is a real toe-tapper.  I have been known on more than one occasion to dance around my kitchen to this song.  Yes, I need to get out more.

"Joy to the World" gives us a whole new definition of "joy".  I won't hear that song again in the same way.

He also sings "Silver Bells" and it makes me want to stroll down a snowy street and look in all the holiday windows.  His lively song "Christmas Time is Here" is a wonderful invitation to celebrate this season with the people we love.

He even included Jackson Browne's "Rebel Jesus" which I would have never coined as a spiritual song.  But, I was wrong.  Take a peek at just this one verse ...

Well they call Him by the Prince of Peace
And they call Him by the Savior
And they pray to Him upon the seas
And in every bold endeavor
And they fill His churches with their pride and gold
As their faith in Him increases
But they've turned the nature that I worship in
From a temple to a robber's den
In the words of the rebel, Jesus

A powerful reminder that Jesus desires us to be passionate about seeking Him and not the riches of this world.

And finally, there is my favorite, "Born to Die".

They never knew a dark night
Always had the Son's light
On their face
Perfect in glory
Broken by the story
Of untold grace...
Come that day

Majesty had come down 
Glory had succumed now 
To flesh and bone
In the arms of a manger
In the hands of strangers
That could not know
Just who they hold

And the angels filled the sky 
All of heaven wondered why
Why their King would choose to be 
Be a baby born to die

And all fell silent 
For the cry of an infant,
The voice of God
Was dividing history
For those with eyes to see,
The Son would shine
From earth that night

To break the chains
Of guilt and sin
To find us here 
To pull us in 
So we can join in Heaven's song
And with one voice around the throne

All the Angels filled the sky
And I can't help but wonder why 
Why this King would choose to be
Be a baby born for me
Be a baby born 
Be a baby born to die

I love this song from the perspective of the angels.  They have always lived in the glory of the light of Jesus in heaven ... and now He has chosen the humble form of a baby on earth.  Their astonishment at God's surrender to the hands of Joseph and Mary is palatable.  They wonder aloud at this mystery ... why would the King choose to be a baby and why would He embrace His fate of death?

Gratefully it is a mystery with purpose ... "To break the chains of guilt and sin ... so we can join in Heaven's song".

I have no choice but to join with the angels in asking "Why?".  Why would Jesus choose to die for me?

The only answer?  Love.

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

The kids moved the snowflake in the advent calendar.  And Surprise! ... It's December 22nd.  Just a few more hours until we get to open all those goodies under the tree and see what treasures we've been given this year!

Fourteen years and two days ago, I was still giggly and smiley about a gift I received from one of my most favoritist people in the whole world!

I remember that Brett came over to pick me up for the first leg of my journey home for Christmas.  We were headed to his folks' house in Boulder and then we would head down to Ridgway for Christmas with my family.  I made us lunch and when we prayed together, I noticed Brett's hands were ice cold (a condition I now know to be associated with extreme nervousness), but he played it off as the result of loading up the car.  After carrying my bags to his Subaru, we got ready to leave, but Brett said he had left his coat in the house.  As we walked back into the kitchen, he took my hand and invited me to walk down the hall to the living room.  My heart suddenly started hammering!  Without saying a word, I knew something big was happening.

We sat down by the Christmas tree and he pulled out a plastic bucket with circus pictures on the outside.  I recognized it immediately as a memento from our first date ... fifteen or so couples all going to the circus in Denver together.

As he opened the bucket, he began pulling out ticket stubs and keepsakes of our years dating.  With each little souvenir, he recounted how each event and activity with me had captured his heart.  A tender walk down memory lane from Brett's perspective.

And there at the bottom of the circus bucket was a little box.

With that little ring and that little question and that little, "yes", I was the recipient of the best Christmas present ever!

I could never hope to list all of the blessings of being Brett's bride, but here are a few that come to mind ...

Spending my days with my very best friend ~ and wishing that pesky work didn't take him away,
Four fantastic kids that fill our days ~ and give us lots to talk and laugh about later,
The bliss of "just the two of us" evenings after the kids are in bed ~ sometimes just to be quiet,
Sharing the same love of quirky TV shows ~ Ed, Arrested Development, Community, 30 Rock, Psych, to name few,
Laughing at the same lines in our favorite movies ~ "Oooh, would we say that?",
A game playing buddy ~ Gin Rummy, Cribbage, Yahtzee ... and only if absolutely necessary, Trivial Pursuit,
Amazing in-laws ~ truly a second family,
Someone who gets me ~ and doesn't question when sudden laughter or tears flow in unexpected moments,
Inside jokes, winks and knee grabs under the table ~ no words necessary, and
Patience, patience, patience ~ and patience, oh my!

I was hard-pressed to find a Christmas song for this Musical Christmas Count-Down today that would paint a picture for you about this most amazing gift.  Strangely enough, there is no holiday song that sings the virtues of a man willing to get up in the middle of the night to help the little person declaring, "My bed messy."  Neither could I find a Christmas tune that sings about the wonders of a husband who will bring a glass of wine to his wife as a surprise when she gets out of her one shower of the week at 9 o'clock on a Tuesday night.

But here's a familiar song about the desire we each have to receive the best present ever ... the gift that they've always wanted:

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev'rywhere you go;
Take a look in the five and ten glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Toys in ev'ry store
But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be
On your own front door.

A pair of hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots
Is the wish of Barney and Ben;
Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk
Is the hope of Janice and Jen;
And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev'rywhere you go;
There's a tree in the Grand Hotel, one in the park as well,
The sturdy kind that doesn't mind the snow.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas; 
Soon the bells will start,
And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart.

(As kid, I would have loved to have a doll that could talk and go for a walk ... and now I have four!)

Truly this sweet marriage is gift from God.

Neither Brett or I alone could redeem this friendship to be a rewarding and renewing, sensible and satisfying, edifying and enjoyable marriage.  If left to our own devices, selfishness and general crabbiness would run amok!  And you can't buy this intimacy and contentment at the "five and ten" either.  No indeed.  This friendship is straight from God.

We are both most assuredly the joyful recipients of the best gift ever.  Thank You, God!

And as for this Christmas, my gift request would be for You to please help us to keep loving each well ... and forgiving often ... and extending grace ... and being friends.

Prompt #2 ~ Best gift ever.  Evvvooore.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Silent Night ~ Time-Warp

We have hopped back and forth during past Christmases between Brett's folks and my family. This year we get to have both!

It has been fun to anticipate this coming weekend and our family seeping into every corner of the house.  I love the promise of a full house:  sitting cheek to cheek (to cheek to cheek) around the dining room table, bumping into each other as we bustle around in the kitchen, squeezing onto the couch for a movie and every bed filled (with an air mattress, for good measure).  I can barely contain my excitement!

One little bit that I will miss this year, which we have enjoyed during other past Christmases at Grammy & Gramps's house, is sitting around the front room, lighting candles and singing carols together as Gramps plays the piano.  Some of my very favorite Christmas snapshots of the kids are their sweet faces illuminated in the glow of the candles.

Like this one from a few years ago ...

The kids near the German Christmas Pyramid,
watching the fans spin the characters around and around.

During this sweet tradition, we sang a number of songs including "Silent Night".  Hearing the kids' delightful voices singing the familiar verses was a treasure.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, this would be the first of hundreds of times that we would sing that particular song over the course of the next seven months.  Every night until mid-July, Aaron requested "Silent Night" as his bedtime song.  Mid-July.

Those many, many, many (many, many, many) opportunities to sing the carol allowed me time to truly hear the words.

Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia,
Christ the Savior is born!
Christ the Savior is born.

Silent night, holy night!
Son of God love's pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth.
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth.

While there are a number of truths in this song, the one that shines out to me today is the declaration of Jesus's Lordship that began when He was born.  Not because of anything He had done or would do, but because of Who He is.  The  Son of God, the chosen Messiah, the Savior, the Lord of Lords ... because God said so.  

And with Jesus's birth as Lord, He ushered in a new era.  The era of grace.  The grace we live in today.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Toy Packaging

Toy Packaging.

Just those two little words strike fear into the hearts of moms & dads, grandmas & grandpas, aunts & uncles around the world.

As Brett and I were wrapping gifts this past week, there was a temptation to de-box, de-twisty-, de-band, de-staple and de-shrink-wrap a few of the toys.  But what is Christmas morning without a pair of scissors lost somewhere in a sea of wrapping paper and an impatient three-year old demanding, "I play it now!"??


It just wouldn't be Christmas if Brett wasn't sitting over in the corner quickly and efficiently freeing Polly Pocket pieces from their packaging and trying not to snip a finger or lose a precious miniature shoe in all the trash.  Thanks, Honey.  You're the best.

This is such an familiar aspect of the Holidays, that Sara Groves wrote a wonderful little song about it.  Proof that toy packaging is a universal frustration for the families of the world!

Toy Packaging

By Sara Groves and Ben Shive

Nothing makes me loose my cool like
Toy packaging
Ask the kids to leave the room for
Toy packaging
I have no choice the money's spent
I've worked for hours to make a dent
I guess it's anger management
Toy packaging

Nothing makes me lose my cool like toy packaging
Ask the kids please leave the room, it's time for toy packaging
I'm drawing up a battle plan
To extricate this Robot man
My self-esteem is in the can
Toy packaging

In the old days you could hold a box and shake it
And hear the pieces rattling around
My eyes tear up at these grommets, tape and twisty ties
Remembering that beautiful sound

Nothing makes me lose my cool like toy packaging
Kids you need to leave the room, mom's opening toy packaging
I'm sorry you have to see this sight
You must be brave, no please don't cry
I promise it will be alright
I hope to have it by tonight
... Never mind this dynamite
Toy packaging

Isn't that awesome?  In the background of the song are noises of sawing and hammering and Sara desperately hollering, "Honey!"  It makes me smile even now.

With as much plastic, wires and tape that go into the packaging of toys these days, you almost get the impression that they don't want you to be able to open it and enjoy it.  It's almost like the goal is to make the item within the box utterly and completely unreachable.

"Yep.  It's just what you wanted.  It was even on your Christmas list.  Isn't it amazing?  What?  You want to open it?  And play with it?  You actually want to touch it? That's absurd!"

God is the exact opposite.  His gift of salvation is utterly and completely accessible!  There are no twisty-ties holding it captive.  There are no itty-bitty bits of plastic holding it contained.  There is no packaging tape keeping it sealed.  There are no plastic bags keeping it prisoner.

God's gift of Jesus is open, inviting and ready to be experienced.  No scissors required.

It's exactly your size, it's what you've always wanted and ... it's just what you need.

Go ahead.  Take it, open it and enjoy it.  It's yours.

Monday, December 19, 2011

What Child is This?

This question echoes in our home on a regular basis.

What child is this that left the bathroom towels on the floor?  Again.

What child is this that chose not to eat breakfast and is now really hungry?

What child is this that forgot to bring home their notebook to work on?

What child is this that didn't nap and is now moaning on the kitchen floor?

What child is this that is standing at the top of the stairs needing a drink of water?

What child is this that has a death grip on my leg and is wiping her nose on my pants?

What child is this who is dawdling along on the way to the van ... without shoes?

That would be my child.

Do you think Mary every asked those questions about Jesus?  Do you think she ever said, "What Child is this who won't go to sleep?"

In spite of the sweetness of this Christmas carol, I would venture to say, "Yes."

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
(Words by William C. Dix)

Here in this carol we have a serene picture of that first Noel.  Baby Jesus fast asleep, snuggled on His mother's lap.  Angels are singing a lullaby of praise and the shepherds are standing guard around the holy family.  It's a humble birthplace with an audience of livestock, but from here this baby will go on to be the Sacrificial Lamb for all people.  He is worthy of great worship and deserving of the gifts and adoration of kings and peasants.  He sleeps on through the celebration of His birth, soothed by the soft humming of his mom.  A beautiful snapshot of this newborn Babe.

But there is no evidence in Scripture that Jesus was a cry-free, tantrum-free, fussy-free kid.  He was a regular Boy who just happened to have a future as, "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6b)  I would have to believe that as Jesus grew, He was a handful in His own way.  Here is one example of a parenting trial, found in Luke 2.

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
   49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[f] 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
 51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:41-52)

Kind of makes the times when my kids hide in the clothing racks at Target not seem so bad.  

This short passage of Scripture strikes a chord with me me.  It's a small peek into Jesus' family that reminds me of their humanness - two regular people trying to raise a Son.  It is also a validation of the huge and sometimes daunting task it is to raise a child - complete with celebrations and frustrations.  I also can identify with Mary a bit -  neither of us can grasp what God has in store for our children.  And I feel for Mary as she raises the Son of God - no pressure there!

In these few words, I witness Mary train up her Son in the same way, with the same challenges and frustrations, as we moms do today.  And that brings me encouragement.  Because as I've said before, this mothering gig is a doozy!

As I go about raising my kids, I am humbled by the task at hand.  I am charged with not just making sure they are fed and helping them learn to read, I also entrusted with the careful shaping of their personalities and the training up of their hearts.  

I want to make sure that they not only know their multiplication tables, but also how to use their manners at the kitchen table.  

I want to make sure that they play well with others and can also play by the rules.  

I want to make sure that they love the Lord with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength also that they love the people around them.

I want them to be quick to get their shoes on and get in the van and I also want them to be quick to love and follow Jesus. ("Haste, haste" ... maybe I'll try that instead of "Chop-chop!")

And I want to say, "What child is this who loves Jesus and is hidden in His Word?"

"That's my kid."


Christmas Play Update:  The kids did great!  We only skipped over one song and our angel only almost fell off his perch once.  Success! Lots of families came and we enjoyed lots of good soups and salads afterwards.  A great kick-off to this final countdown to Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The First Noel

This afternoon, we are headed back to the church for the Children's Christmas play.  And it ought to be ... interesting.

We have a simple script and a few favorite carols to sing together with the families of our shepherds and wise men (correction:  wise guy and two wise gals).  The whole shebang won't last longer than twenty minutes.  But I'm still curious to see it all come together.

In the course of our rehearsals each week during Children's Church, it has been a bit like herding cats.  Once we get one little shepherd up on his feet and together with the rest of the throng, we look over and another shepherd has crawled under the table in an effort to hide.  The soldiers who march in with Caesar Augustus are more of the wiggling and waltzing type.  We might have to velcro them to the throne to keep them standing still.  We are hoping our angel finds his voice (his brothers assure me he has one) because I don't remember the angel from Luke whispering his glorious announcement.  And as for the narrators, I have my fingers crossed that they will be able to follow along with the action of the play and keep our momentum up.  Or at least know what page we're on.

On that First Noel, God had an equally eclectic cast to work with.

A young and meek girl to fill the role of mother of Jesus.
An older but still uncertain carpenter to play the husband and father.
A newborn baby to be the King of Israel.
A host of angels to make the announcement.
A rag-tag bundle of shepherds to be the first worshippers.
A band of mysterious wise men with gifts.

And us.

The song, "The First Noel", is the like the script that each player followed.  Can you find your role?

The First Noel
The First Noel, the Angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the East beyond them far
And to the earth it gave great light
And so it continued both day and night.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

And by the light of that same star
Three Wise men came from country far
To seek for a King was their intent
And to follow the star wherever it went.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

This star drew nigh to the northwest
O'er Bethlehem it took its rest
And there it did both Pause and stay
Right o'er the place where Jesus lay.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

Then entered in those Wise men three
Full reverently upon their knee
And offered there in His presence
Their gold and myrrh and frankincense.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel! 

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord

That hath made Heaven and earth of nought
And with his blood mankind has bought.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

See.  I made it easy for you.  It's those bold lines.

I acknowledge feeling a little anxiety about this afternoon's play.  I don't think we'll have anything as exciting as when the Herdmen's took over "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever", but there's always the possibility for something unexpected.

God, on the other hand, directed that first Christmas knowing exactly how each role would be played. There were no surprises.

He knew Mary would embrace this life-changing event.  He knew Joseph would waver, but be strong in the end. He knew that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem.  In a stable.  With the livestock.  He knew that the shepherds, the folks on the fringe of society, would be quick to follow the angel's directions and find the Messiah first.  And He also knew they would be exuberant in sharing the news with everyone they met.  God knew that the wise men would follow that new star all the way to Bethlehem.  He also knew the gifts they would bring and that they would each point to Jesus' divinity.

And He knows you.  He knows your heart ... your hopes and your dreams.  And your worries and your fears.  But you still have a role.  Are you ready to do your part?

Let us all together sing praises to our heavenly Lord!


On a different note, a mom friend here in GJ is participating in the Kohl's Love to Give, Happy to Save Contest.  Pop over to the Facebook page here, and vote for Jenn and Iron Will.  Another wonderful gift this Christmas ... for hundreds of kids and their families!  And Oh, So Easy!!

Breath of Heaven

Monday evenings can be doozies.

This past week, was one of those.  It was the piranha hour (affectionately named after the habit of my kids to nip and nibble at each other and my nerves) and my carnivorous fish were especially hungry.

Aaron was bickering with Lydia about her affinity for de-constructing his Lego creations.  Lydia was standing her ground with two handfuls of her big brother's building blocks tucked behind her back.

Ashley due to her unfortunate bemoaning of how booooorrrring our house was, found herself spot cleaning the kitchen floor ... and sniffling.

Baby S had her little lamb in a head-lock and was talking loudly, "You wanna piece of me?  Huh?  Huh?"

The Lego war was escalating, Ashley had moved on to complaining about having no one to play with and the wrestling match between Baby S and the lamb had come to a dramatic and fussy end.

I checked the clock ... 5:15.  ...sigh...

On Mondays Brett stays to pick up Norah from gymnastics which means that I had almost an hour and a half before my reinforcements arrived and when they did get here, they would be starving.

I headed to the kitchen to get dinner started and found a sink full of dishes still waiting to be washed.  ...sigh...

I didn't want to join in the piranha feast so I took a deep breath, turned on Pandora and slipped on my yellow rubber gloves.  The first couple Christmas songs began floating through the house.

I have truly enjoyed the past couple of weeks, seeing my favorite carols and Christmas songs with fresh eyes and sharing with you here how they can each point us back to Jesus and the manger.  Even "A Holly Jolly Christmas"!  Now as I stood at the sink, with steam fogging up the window, my heart wanted to turn back to the mystery of that first Noel, but my day (this piranha hour, specifically) was getting in the way.

My kids were grumbly ... and I could feel myself headed that way, too.
But, could I really use the typical challenges of motherhood as an excuse to grumble?

Not with a clear conscience.  I know for a fact that Jesus will help me to keep my head, if I keep my eyes on Him.  This Monday was a perfect opportunity to put this truth to the test.

A renewed squabble in the living room erupted suddenly and without taking the time to remove my bubbly gloves, I separated the feuding fish, sent them off to the "Great Learning Box" to do some learning (both of them wiping down door knobs while holding hands ought to teach them something!). Upon my return to the sink, I found Ashley engrossed in coloring (whew!) and Baby S was chewing fiercely on little lamb's leg.  I decided to take these few moments to put my pent up frustration to good use and scrub a dish or two.

From the iPod came the following words ... "breath of heaven, hold me together" ...

"Yes, Jesus, hold me together.  I don't want to speak or act rashly.  I don't want to share this frustration with my kids.  Hold me together.  Hold me together."

As promised, I could feel the tension dissolve.  (Remember that dish detergent commercial where one little drop chases the grease away ... something like that.)

My kids might still be pecking at my last nerve and it was still an hour before my knight in shining armor would be home, but with my heart tuned to Jesus, my perspective was renewed.  And my spirit, too.

I am not alone in my mothering, even when it's five against one.  Jesus is always present with me.

Here are the rest of the words to that song:

Breath of Heaven
I have traveled many moonless night
Cold and weary, with a babe inside
And I wonder what I've done
Holy Father, you have come
And chosen me now
To carry your son

I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone,
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now
Be with me now

Breath of heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Light up my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For you are holy

Breath of heaven

Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one one should have had my place
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan
Help me be strong
Help me be
Help me

Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven

Now ... I can't relate to every line in this song.  I do not currently have "a babe inside" and my recent travels have been by van, but nearly every other verse resonates with me.

That sense of carrying a burden, a load, in mothering is huge.  I am raising, training, shepherding and shaping four little people ... helping them discover their passions and purposes for life.  No pressure there.  "How can I be trusted with these important people?"

Loneliness in the midst of my herd of children is frequent.  I long to be both alone and in the company of adults with the same intensity!  That random juxtaposition puts me in a pickle on a regular basis.  Brett offers for me to have time on my own and my response often is, "But, I don't want to be alone...what would I do?"

Self-doubt is no stranger to me.  Whether it's mothering, writing, friendships or helping at church and school, I find myself asking that question, "Who, me? Am I the right person for this?  Did you make a mistake, God?  Do you want a do-over?"

All of the answers to these questions are found in the chorus ... Jesus.

He will breath life into mine ... through the power of the Holy Spirit.
He is by my side in the midst of every task ... the cleaning of the house and the raising of the kids.
He promises to be a light to my path ... illuminating my days with truth.
He is my strength when I feel sapped ... empowering me to respond to my mothering challenges with wisdom and self-control.
He is my help ... no matter the time of day or trouble at hand.

I am grateful that in the midst of this challenging job of Mom, I have the breath of heaven holding me together.  And I hope you do, too.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas

Without a doubt my favorite performance of the "Twelve Days of Christmas" would be the Muppet's rousing rendition, complete with Miss Piggy's, "Ba-dum, bum-bum's".  I have very fond childhood memories of trimming our Christmas tree and listening to this album.  Being very careful in our dancing and decorating to miss the spots in the living room floor that would make the album skip.

If you are unfamiliar with this lively interpretation of this Christmas favorite (because you grew up under a rock or somewhere even more isolated than Ridgway), here is the song from the "A Christmas Together" TV Special.  It's a little different from the version we grew up with which lacks Beaker squeaking but adds Animal's "rah rrapparmw wrapammrrr-ing".

In listening to this song, I got to thinking about what I would find song-worthy as a mom.  What would I delight in receiving from my love for twelve days of Christmas?

My wish list would go a little something like this ...

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, one faithful cleaning fairy (who loves to dust).

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two hours of reading (uninterrupted under a blanket with a mug of tea) and a faithful cleaning fairy.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three clean bedroom floors (including the corners of the room), two hours of reading and a faithful cleaning fairy.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four smiling kids (who also laugh, giggle, play happily together and like each other), three clean bedroom floors, two hours of reading and a faithful cleaning fairy.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five dates with Brett! ... four smiling kids, three clean bedroom floors, two hours of reading and a faithful cleaning fairy.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six dinner plates cleared (without any moaning, groaning or grumbling), five dates with Brett! ... four smiling kids, three clean bedroom floors, two hours of reading and a faithful cleaning fairy.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven days of breakfast (without having to peer into the fridge, puzzling what to fix), six dinner plates cleared, five dates with Brett! ... four smiling kids, three clean bedroom floors, two hours of reading and a faithful cleaning fairy.

On the eight day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eight hours of sleep (without any night-time visitors), seven days of breakfast, six dinner plates cleared, five dates with Brett! ... four smiling kids, three clean bedroom floors, two hours of reading and a faithful cleaning fairy.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine inches of snow (on Christmas morn with no where to go), eight hours of sleep, seven days of breakfast, six dinner plates cleared, five dates with Brett! ... four smiling kids, three clean bedroom floors, two hours of reading and a faithful cleaning fairy.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, ten days without packing lunches (enough said), nine inches of snow, eight hours of sleep, seven days of breakfast, six dinner plates cleared, five dates with Brett! ... four smiling kids, three clean bedroom floors, two hours of reading and a faithful cleaning fairy.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven minutes without thumb-sucking (or someone yelling, "NO" or stomping feet or requests to play TapZoo), ten days without packing lunches, nine inches of snow, eight hours of sleep, seven days of breakfast, six dinner plates cleared, five dates with Brett! ... four smiling kids, three clean bedroom floors, two hours of reading and a faithful cleaning fairy.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve long lost socks (that match the ones living on my dresser), eleven minutes without thumb-sucking, etc, ten days without packing lunches, nine inches of snow, eight hours of sleep, seven days of breakfast, six dinner plates cleared, five dates with Brett! ... four smiling kids, three clean bedroom floors, two hours of reading ... and a faithful cleaning fairy!

I don't actually envision finding any of those gifts nestled under our Christmas tree, except for the lunch break.  With the kids out of school next week, I will enjoy several days of not packing lunches the night before and letting them fend for themselves come meal time!  But as for the clean bedroom floors and cleaning fairy, I think I'm out of luck!

But, hey ... A mom can dream!

In reality, I don't actually need any of those things - even though a break from the thumb-sucking would be sublime.  I actually just need Jesus to help hold me to together in the midst of the whirling wonderland that is motherhood.

But more on that, tomorrow ...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

We four girls lived in a little blue house just off campus.  We enjoyed scheming together for surprise parties, dressing up for Murder Mysteries, swing dancing at the Cactus Moon and giggling about the most recent antics of our cats, Sugar and Spice.  Sweet, sweet friends.

One year around Christmas time, we decided to draw names and fill our stockings secret-Santa style.  It would be fun ... and cheap.  Seeing as we were all a little stretched thin in the currency department, this would allow us each to spoil on another without breaking the bank.  We each drew a name out of a bag and started shopping around for fun and silly stocking stuffers.

On one of the last nights before winter break, we piled into the rec room with our stockings over-flowing and celebrated Christmas together.

I had filled my roommate's stocking in the same fashion that Santa had always filled mine and I was excited to see her unwrap her goodies.  Today I don't really remember what was at the top of Debbie's stocking.  I imagine I gave her a pair of silly socks, maybe some fruity lip balm and perhaps a notepad and glittery pen.  I probably also included some candy and maybe a toothbrush or some good smelling lotion.  She ooh'ed and aah'ed as she unwrapped each little package.  Then she got really excited as she saw that there was one more something in the toe of her stocking.  It was kind of heavy and about the size of an orange.

"What could be in there?", she giggled, reaching her arm into the stocking.

A curious look came over her face as she withdrew her hand and her last present.

"It's an orange," she stated matter-of-factly, with a mixture of disappointment and puzzlement.

"Yep," I said, feeling just a little bit silly, "We always get an orange in our stocking.  You know, an orange."

Silence for just a second ... and then we all started laughing.

Apparently Santa only left fruit at the Nadel's house!

I still laugh about that ... the surprise and confusion about how that pesky piece of fruit made it's way into her stocking and my disbelief that my family was the only recipient of fruit with a few nuts tossed in for good measure!

Those three ladies are still such wonderful dear friends.  Even though we are scattered across the state and across the country, I know that if we were all plopped in the same room together, we would start up right were we left off.  With plenty of laughter as we reminisce about that little blue house and as we share about the craziness of life today.

That is one of those miracles of friendship, especially if you share the common bond of faith in Jesus - years can go by between visits and yet the closeness and harmony does not age or fade.

Which brings me to my song for today's Musical Count-Down to Christmas, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas".  There are about a hundred different renditions of this Holiday carol, but my personal favorite would have to be the lovely duet between John Denver and Rowlf the Dog.  Click here for a listen.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yuletide gay
From now on our troubles will be miles away

Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of Yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more

Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

Music composed by Hugh Martin, lyrics by Ralph Blane

As I think back on that night of sitting and laughing about fruit, sharing the traditions of our families and celebrating Jesus' birth, the third verse stands out to me with startling clarity.  These friends (and the many other friends who have crossed my path) are dear to me and I know that as we each continue to live the lives that God has mapped out for us, we will continue to celebrate Jesus together, share our lives with one another when we have the chance... and laugh about the silliness of life, be it kids or fruit!

Prompt #4 ~ Share a story from your college years.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Time-Warp Wednesday ~ River

In the kitchen the other evening, I was listening to James Taylor's album "At Christmas".  He sings a lovely rendition of Joni Mitchell's song, River.  (Pop over here to listen to a beautiful recording.)

I can't help but  be moved by this song every time I hear it.  Mainly because it brings vividly to mind the people in my life for whom Christmas is not joyful and full of celebration.  For some, this season is instead filled with lingering grief, sharp memories of painful Christmases and the hurt of past disappointments.  While we anticipate and enjoy this Holiday season, there are some who struggle and  who truly wish they had a river to skate away on.

Here are the bittersweet lyrics to this song:

It's coming on Christmas 
They're cutting down trees 
They're putting up reindeer 
And singing songs of joy and peace 
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on 

But it don't snow here 
It stays pretty green 
I'm going to make a lot of money 
Then I'm going to quit this crazy scene 
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on 

I wish I had a river so long 
I would teach my feet to fly 
I wish I had a river I could skate away on 
I made my baby cry

He tried hard to help me 
You know, he put me at ease 
And he loved me so naughty 
Made me weak in the knees 
Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on

I'm so hard to handle 
I'm selfish and I'm sad 
Now I've gone and lost the best baby 
That I ever had 
I wish I had a river I could skate away on 

Oh, I wish I had a river so long 
I would teach my feet to fly 
I wish I had a river 
I could skate away on 
I made my baby say goodbye 

It's coming on Christmas 
They're cutting down trees 
They're putting up reindeer 
And singing songs of joy and peace 
I wish I had a river I could skate away on

© 1970; Joni Mitchell 

My lingering prayer for my loved ones who find themselves searching for a river to take them away is that they would find peace.  And that they would find themselves standing not on a frozen river of isolation and grief, but in the midst of God's river of life ...

1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Revelation 22:1)

Whew ... that was a little heavy!  Before you go, I want to send you away with a little Time-Warp snapshot.  And a smile.

Growing up, we spent quite a few winters skating.  I had a pair of baby blue skates that had gray fur trim.  I loved those skates.  I think I tried to squeeze my tootsies into them way past the size foot they were made for.

Our town had a roughed in skating pond by the park.  Now they have benches and a heated shelter where you can warm up.  We, however, parked our boots in a snow bank, plowed off the rink with a rigged up, ginormous shovel and when we couldn't feel our toes anymore, we went home.

In my mind, my shuffling steps rivaled the pirouettes and Salchow jumps of Dorothy Hamill and Peggy Flemming!  In reality, I was wobbly and wonky.

That would be me in the blue winter hat behind my brother.  I'm either waving or recovering from an almost-yard-sale-tumble.  Let's go with waving.

It also became clear at a young age that I had no future in skiing.  Peekaboo Street, I was not.  This is not me adjusting after a big jump.  This is me just trying to stay on my feet.  And hoping my feet are not forever frozen lumps of ice.

Blessings on you this Wednesday!  I hope you find yourself knee-deep in the River of Life ... and laughter!

Monday, December 12, 2011

In the Bleak Midwinter

As I sit to write this Monday afternoon, it is bleak.  And grey.  And cold.  And sunless.

And bleak.

Which leads me to one of my most favorite Christmas carols.  So I guess today's blahness was worth it!

Enjoy a little musical interlude with Corrinne May.   I love this little snapshot of an artist truly loving what she is doing.  Her joy in performing is evident in her smiles ...

In the Bleak Midwinter
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Text: Christina G. Rossetti, 1830-1894
Music: Gustav Holst, 1874-1934

What a powerful picture painted with words and song.  The bitter cold held at bay from the new babe and mother by the stable walls and the animals who lived there.  The humility of His birth contrasted with the majesty of Heaven looking on.  The rejoicing of the angels at this miraculous birth and that first snapshot of worship ... a mother's kiss on the head of the Son of God.

But the final verse is what really touches my heart.  

What do we have to give as a gift to Jesus?  
We are poverty-struck in the face of His glorious riches.  
We are empty of anything of value when it comes to His all-sufficiency and majesty.
We lack anything of worth when compared to His incomparable wealth.

The only thing of value that we have to offer Jesus is us.  

Christina Rossetti penned it well.  What can we possibly give to Jesus?  

Only our hearts will do.  

And what if our hearts are in the midst of a bleak midwinter?  What if our hearts stand hard as iron?  I believe Jesus will take our icy hearts, too.  He doesn't want anything to come between His love and our hearts.