Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Recipe for Christmas

This year I've been pretty crazy focused on making our own family Christmas… a tradition these kids could grow up in, where we could be homey and cozy together:  our family, Christmas… Christ, worship, joy.      

December in China has almost no hint of Christmas- not in the air (see the post below) or songs or general public cheer, which is just a hope anywhere.  We make our own from scratch at home and it is good.  This is just one recipe for Christmas and it fits for us.  Here's how we celebrate:

Advent:  From Dec 1-25th we turn out the lights after dinner, and read Jesse Tree devotions by candlelight (we still enjoy Ann Voskamp's old free devotional), with the magic of the flames capturing attention better than normal, and then hang the next ornament on our banner and nibble some sweet treat while Daddy tells the story at the table.

Cookies:  The sweets are important.  Not eternally important, but very familially important.  This year, several ladies blessed me to share their favorite recipes with me and it made our recipe collection so much brighter and our plates, so much tastier!  What joy to see their names and their sweet contributions...

Tunes:  I made a Christmas Worship playlist to leave on repeat for, well, the whole month (or as long as Marian could go between spells from the "goofy kids songs" list.)  These are the songs I want our hearts and souls nourished by.  I don't care if we never play a dozen or so songs that I grew up hearing at some point every year, but the true ones, the real Christ-mas ones?   Yes, please.  Some favorites….  Paul Baloche Christmas Worship, Fernando Ortega, Jadon Lavik and Andrew Peterson Behold the Lamb (a Christmas must).

Christmas Eve feast-less: not exactly a fast but we want to eat simple together this evening meal to remember Mary and Joseph, their long journey to Bethlehem, and their hard hunt for housing with their final find…  lodging in a stable.

The Nativity Story movie:    We love it…. we might not watch it every year, but it's just so good.  Really grateful for the story here and for how they kept to the Biblical text.

Prepare Him Room*:  And since we really are celebrating Christ, we want to give to Him (as you do for the least of these, you do to me).  This is the greatest celebration.  Giving for the joy of giving, for lasting benefit, with no thought of receiving in return.  We enjoy this as our happiest way to prepare room for wonder, worship, and a gladness that bursts wide open on Christmas morning with no gifts under our own tree.  This is the joy that lasts well beyond fashion and batteries, wood and straw.

Kindness & Thankful Stockings:  The kids wrote notes all December of things they were grateful for or moments of kindness between them or just plain happy notes (I love God, I love bananas…) and on the 24th we gave them money for each note.   That money was their own giving fund.  So fun!  They picked some fun toys to give...

Royal Birthday Breakfast:   We are celebrating the King!  He has come!!  He didn't have to, but he did.  He came for us!  He entrusted himself to the most vulnerable of births, and we are the glad recipients!  JOY!  Best breakfast of the year!  For birthday festivities, we'll try to include a shout out of scripture memorized…. us enjoying Him, glorifying Him, trusting and praising Him and His Word.

Epiphany Stockings:  Just more to look forward to…  we plan to give our kids some small stocking gifts on January 6th that will stoke their heart fire for the Lord, just like the wise men's gifts were given to prepare Jesus for what was ahead for him.  And there will probably be sweets, again, too.

Mix everything above with generous games together, dancing, read alouds, prayer, invitations "Come join us!" and "how can we help?"….  Take pictures and keep those stocking notes to record the joy.  We are the people of the King and we celebrate His glory and our gift in Him.  May our celebrations be rich with worship and wonder, service and joy!

* Funny, I read back, a post from Dec 2011,  when I wrote how we still want to give some gifts on Christmas.  Yea,  that can be fine.  But to release Christmas completely from material gifts, for us this year, this has been the best joy.   

It reminds me of Joseph's line to Mary in The Nativity Story movie, as they are walking through Jerusalem, near the temple that was filled like a circus-crazy market:  "and this was supposed to be a holy place?"  We've got elves, reindeer and the fat man and sales, sparkles, and "I know you don't need this and maybe you won't even like it but I had to buy you something."  The same could be said of our cultural way at Christmas….  "This was supposed to be a holy day?"  

But I am happy for our kids to learn to give to each other too.  I am really stoked for gearing our kids to be excited for their needs to be met rather than only for their wildest, materialistic, usually not-the-least-bit-necessary dreams to come true.  For our family, we don't get to drive down the street to Wal-mart when all the socks are holed up or when every last T-shirt is torn.  So for us to make things last and then celebrate when a good old fashioned need can be met in a nice way, that is joyful gift giving, as is thoughtfulness and generosity among us too.   I'm happy for our kids to have this joy as well!  We'll have Family Gift Day (and it probably should be given it's own fantastic name) every year…  it will probably be our flexible holiday, whenever we might get a visit with grandparents or be with family or maybe a surprise day.  The key is that it we just don't want gifts for us to distract from the Worship-Focus, the Christ-Center of CHRISTmas.  Some years, I know we will do our family Advent - Christmas early and then join with extended family for their happy rendition of Dec 25th Joy.   There will be joy and worship there too…. we have so very much to celebrate!  

The Wrong Kind of White (and The Right Kind of Weakness)

First of all, the sweet treat white:  Matt discovered that my fantastic new blender wand can do its magic on fresh whipping cream.  It worked! #bestwhippedcreaminChina! (And it's a dream for helping with more plant-based meals for our crew… They don't even know they're eating veggies! I love it!  Thanks Mom and Dad K!)

As for our wrong white Christmas…  For nearly a week, our Air Quality Index was ranked us "Severely Polluted," our city the worst or one of the worst cities in China.  Then there were a few days where my app simply listed us as "Beyond Index" (meaning that the AQI chart doesn't go high enough) but a friend leaked the info he saw and it probably would have made for a bit happier Christmas if he didn't.   Just gross…..
I got this pic two weeks ago when our pollution was only "heavily polluted" level… nobody likes to be out in it!

someone said yesterday ….  "it feels apocalyptic"

It's when you look out over any distance that you can see the weight of it the worst…
this is the view from Matt's 21st story office in our crowded city (i.e. there are buildings in this picture that you just can.not.see.)
Today I'm so grateful for grace to be down into the "heavily polluted"range, less than a fourth of our pollution score for yesterday!

Here are the words I read this morning from J.I. Packer, Weakness is the Way:  Life with Christ our Strength, that hit my heart hard for where I'm at in this mess.... Oh for the grace-strength of Christ in this place of weakness He's put us.

"It is time now to take to heart Paul's triumphant concluding comment on [his own weaknesses and his life inChrist ]: " Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong"(2 Cor 12: 9 -10). So lean on Christ, the lover of your soul, as Paul did, and in all your ongoing weakness, real as it is, you too will be empowered to cope and will be established in comfort and joy."

"....We should recognize that the fierce and somewhat disabling pain with which Christ in due course required him to live and which he clearly accepted as a weakness that would be with him to his dying day, had in view less the enriching of his ministry than the furthering of his sanctification."

"Paul models the discipleship, spiritual maturity, and growth in grace that all believers are called to pursue.  When the world tells us, as it does, that everyone has a right to a life that is easy, comfortable, and relatively pain-free, a life that enables us to discover, display and deploy all the strengths that we have latent within us, the world twists the truth right out of shape.   That was not the quality of life to which Christ's calling led him, nor was it Paul's
calling, nor is it what we are called to in the twenty-first century.  For all Christians the likelihood is rather that as our discipleship continues, God will make us increasingly weakness-conscious and pain-aware, so that we may learn with Paul that when we are conscious of being weak, then -and only then- may we become truly strong in The Lord.  And should we want it any other way?  What do you think."

(Selections from pages 51- 54.)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

We Wish You a Merry Christmas! {2013}

We hope this holiday is filled with royal celebration for you.  May we all be celebrants this and every day because we're the crazy people who really mean what we sing in those carols. So let's sing it loud…. with our whole lives, to everyone:

 Joy to the World!  Our Savior has come!

(and here's just a bit of goof for you too)

Friday, December 20, 2013

home-grown joy

"Mom, the tea kettle is like our own photo booth!"

...and when the laughter from the kitchen won over the big guy, he came to join in the fun 
(and somehow so did Vivi's camel)

We've all been sadly still grumpy on cue recently but the Lord has graciously overridden our weaknesses and our hazy skys  (our city topped the chart for most polluted in China this week!) and we've had sweet, sweet joys....  

And it's so true.  We hear so much about why there is pain and hurt and sorrow and these are hard, sad, needful questions.... but we've also got to dare to ask why joy?  why life?  why love?  The seed of all this sure doesn't come from me or any of my little ones.....  it's growing here but it's not from us.  It's all the stuff of God,  the Giver of every good gift, the One who is Love and Joy and Peace.  He plants it. And right here, we give thanks to You, Father, in laughter, tears, and nearly wet pants.  (well, Vivi's pants.... oh, never mind.)   Your goodness to us astounds, Lord.  

Lord help us tend to the gifts you've given us.....  

Last week we had two shows at home.... the girls' impromptu "we are princesses" song and dance and the boys' very well-arranged theatrical production of Sir Isaiah and Sir John.  The fearless duo fought against daddy in three scenes where daddy did a marvelous job with his quick change time:  first he was evil men in a forest, then orcs,  and finally the two headed dragon behind the curtain (starring puppet hands:  the duck and T Rex).  

Once again, I must make it clear, we are not floating flawlessly through these days... But who says we have to be flawless to be joyful!?  (Well, a lot of times I do....  but I'll preach it to myself again here:  It isn't true.)   We managed to down a whole bag of shriveled popcorn from my 5 star-worst cooking failure: Mexican Chocolate Popcorn Balls.  It's actually pretty sad/gross to think that we still ate the mess.  Let us never underestimate the alluring power of Chirstmas sprinkles.... even on pure sogcorn .

But this batch of cookies did turn out.  We are all excited with how pretty-tasty they are!  And we get to go share them in the next few days....  which makes it even better!

This snuggle love, he wasn't too interested in decorating cookies but he was delighting in this gun all afternoon.    This gift!  Isaiah and Marian saved up their "reward cards" from art school (that they attend weekly- they get cards for being on time and good effort, etc.) for months (and they didn't loose track of any of them) so that they could buy this (chincy) suction-dart gun and a pistol set for John and Vivi.... just for love.   We love this.... love these kids.  #smittenmomanddad
sumo wrestlers...  (can you see the stuffing in their bellies?)
instant belly = instant laughter

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Kids

What do we buy for the Grandparents who came heavily laden with gifts from across the ocean?  Really....  what on earth!?  They say that all they want is pictures and that seems doable enough.  We had just seen a super cute photo shoot that friends of ours did so we thought we'd simply head over there and join in the fun.  

It never crossed our minds (why, oh why did it not!?) that this photo studio specialized in 20-something brides and grooms.  Kiddo photography is also a big deal in China and I just assumed that of course they could do that too....

We came in like a tribe, including Grandpa who played a bit for the Bears and who's taller than those make-up artists had ever seen before in their lives.  Did we really think they would be able to outfit us- all eight of us- from kids to giants?

So the photo shoot that was meant as our only gift to Grandma and Grandpa turned into memory of humiliation and hilarity.  Those same young make-up artists had Grandma and Grandpa a little less dressed than they were OK with, the two of them standing side by side in the dressing room with their host of wardrobe attendants, mostly just in shock and horror that would soon, soon (but definitely not yet) ripen into laughter.... and all that was accomplished was more ridiculousness in the way of the worn out emperor and empress arrangement that just did. not. fit. them.  And when there was only one acceptable dress for Grandma, and the ladies shyly mentioned that that was an ancient Chinese man's robe (yes, the one with the pink and lavender flowers) .... we finally gave up the quest and decided that the kids alone would have their pictures taken that day.    

And it really didn't end there.  Because the kids had hardly any clothes either (the only thing that fit Vivi was one shirt that they pinned enough to make it look dress-ish) but that didn't stop any of the ambitious photo / wardrobe crew from believing that they could do this job.  They were unswerving in their determination to snap these shots (no matter how ridiculous!) and there is something, (even if it's just a little something), to be admired about that I guess.  The boys were adorned in....well, you can see,  and I imagined that they could photoshop their pants to at least be black to match the shirts...  but I guess not.  But, the girls did get to wear makeup and that alone made it entirely worth if for both of them.   And we had fun watching these silly shots unfold and that too was a gift to enjoy.  

Merry Christmas Grandma and Grandpa.... We're so grateful for this and all the fun memories of your time with us recently!!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Way to Finish Strong.... and Start Over Again

It's silly, I'm sure, but I need to remind myself fairly often of some things that are embarrassingly simple.  Today I need to remember and know this....  This side of eternity, there is no arriving.   I have every reason to be content and glad and profoundly soul-satisfied..... and to keep striving for more.  

I have to remind myself of this as this year winds down and I think back over all my dreams for 2013 and "how am I going to make it in 2014?"  Because it really is true and it should be a happy thing to remember:  our work will never be done.   How mistaken to let that be a frustration!  Let it be comfort and confirmation to my very good, calling....  to serve with joy.  

So... the way to finish this year strong? J.I. Packer has these sweet words in his latest book,    Weakness is the Way.  (p 31-32)

"Whether we are at home [in heaven] or away [still on earth], we make it our aim to please him,"  Paul says (2 Cor. 5:9).  Pleasing those who in some sense have your heart- a spouse, a sibling, a child, a friend, a mentor, a benefactor, or whoever- is a demanding occupation.  It calls for imagination, empathy, and effort;  you have to be aware of their hopes and expectations that involve you, their likes and dislikes, and their sense of the bond between you and them.  

Is this a major motive in our own lives, I wonder:  always and under all circumstances to please our Lord and Savior?  It was so with Paul, and this agenda, then for him, as now for us, is demanding.  It requires sustained love to Jesus, expressed in adoration of him for all that he is in himself and thanksgiving to him for all that he has done, for the world of lost humanity in general and for us sinners in particular.  It requires sustained obedience to all his commands, up to the limits of our understanding of them.  It requires constant watchfulness against temptations to self-indulgence, and constant battling against sloth, laziness, and indifference to spiritual issues.  It requires respectful and caring treatment of all others as persons created to bear the image of God, and self denial at all points where self-absorption would conflict with and damp down active neighbor-love.  It requires daily holiness, from morning to night, a daily quest for opportunities to bear witness to Christ, and daily prayer for the furthering of Christ's kingdom and the blessing of needy people.

There is joy in laboring wholeheartedly to please Christ, as Paul knew, but there is no denying that, as Isaac Watts put it, "love so amazing so divine [as Christ's love, supremely displayed at the cross], demands my soul, my life, my all."    

And then Packer shares an illustration C.S.Lewis used to describe the Christian's continued pursuit of Christ, continued service of Christ....  

"Lewis asks, what is it that a man in love wants when he courts the girl, woos her, and gets engaged to her with a view to marrying her?  Answer:  he wants more of the relationship with her that he has already begun.  He wants the deepest, richest, most satisfying mode of togetherness with her that it is possible for him to have.  He wants, in other words, more of what he has already."  (p35)

Hebrew and Greek are far from my Chinese-English brain, and I can't pretend to be scholar, but I've heard enough great sermons of pastors mentioning that Matthew 7:7, when we're told to ask, that it's really "ask and keep asking" and "knock, and keep knocking."  

I have no idea if it's there in the original languages but I think it must also be true for "abide in Me"(John 15) and for "we make it our aim to please him"; I've got to remember that's a present continuous thing too.  I'm not going to arrive at this place, a line in the sand of "now I've mastered abiding in Christ".... like I could coast on from there.  It's just not going to happen.  Just like getting the house clean is never going to last 60 seconds.  This is life.  Abide in Christ, and keep at it, keep abiding.  Aim to please him and keep ever after it, hard after it.  Like the lover who is already pledged to marry or already married, but who wants more, still more...  Run hard after that one end.... the prize of His smile and embrace.   

And for the moments when I shockingly feel like I may have hit target?   Rejoice!   Enjoy that thrill and know that it won't last long. The moments and days of falling far from target are the vast majority.  But rejoice then too.... because the Savior has come for just this!  For just me and for every failure, every flaw for everyone of us.    He has promised rescue and redemption and love, always love.  So aim and keep aiming, attending to His Word, and always aiming for more for His glory.  This is joy..... This is Life!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Best Invested (with a gift for you)

Scroll down for a little gift... a big picture planning printable

Have you heard the illustration of rocks and sand in the jar?  I remember well the guy who held up the transparent glass,  sharing how we fill can it (our lives) with rocks, pebbles, sand, water.  He held no punches while he boldly encouraged us to live radically for the Glory of the One who has given us all.   The idea is that if you start with the small stuff first, you can't fit in any of the big ones, but if you place rocks in your jar first, the other stuff can slip in around it.  What are the rocks to place in my life?  

I just came across the story again in this post from Living Well Spending Less.  She's got five points to consider that I found really doable and I'm excited.  Excited because I realized after reading it that there's a pattern in my life that I think can be changed for good gain.    

I know I can get much (much) more done in a day when I've written down all the tasks, the pieces, the little projects as well as the big.  Of course, any day might include it's own Vesuvius.... but I still want to plan the best that I can, right?!  So when I write things down, more of the small moments that come loose can be seized, given to a priority rather than putzed away and swept under the rug where everyday never adds up to anything.  

Usually, I try to plan a week at a time:  meals, household admin tasks, appointments.  Then I have a crazy pile of a list at the back of my weekly plan.  That page is all the stuff I don't want to forget about and I'd eventually like to get done, but I've never had a thorough plan to actually do any of it.  The pile page is sprouting weed seeds and growing like a villain.  Clearly a little improvement is needed but I'm still stubborn and unwilling to give up my simple weekly plan.  It's just the way I tick.... 

So how to tackle the back page pile-up?  Well, I've made a bit of a monthly or big picture planner page.  The idea is that what's written there be not just possibilities, eventual goals of never-ending (un)doableness, but real, I-can-finsh-this-thing, hard targets.   My weekly plan will take projects from this new page and add in the daily business so that by the end of the month, hopefully the mountain has  been sumitted.  

Filling in the big picture is something to pray over well.   A little bit less than a seasonal planning retreat, and far more strategic than planning just the urgent responses needed every day.  For this,  I want to tuck away for an hour or two a month to seek the Lord for... How can I make the most of the gift I've been given- the time I've been given- to live best invested for the glory of my King?  How can I make special moments with my husband and kids, to love them well?  What scripture would be best to meditate on/ memorize?  What books should I read and how can I process and apply the learning to gain all that I can from that book?    What people do I need to connect with?  What needs can I minister to and how can I shine as bright as this little light possibly can?    

To make it super special for me and hopefully a worthy gift to share with you (just in case you're a nutty (paper and pen) planner like I am), I asked the artistic wonder Danielle Burkleo to make it lovely.  She sure did.    Simple and sweet.  I love it.  

Here's it is, a printable, as a tiny gift to you, friends.  

The priorities are the big three:  Relationships, Worship, Service.   And then three places where those are played out:  Home, Education, Personal.  Again, this is a place for specifics, targets to hit and take down.  Maybe the truly nutty will need a Dream Page too, or a 5-10 year plan to fuel this one?  I know for me, one tricky thing to pay attention to is that I don't bite off ridiculously more than I can possibly chew. Be ambitious and be realistic.  Lord help me!

Options are endless and the lists might just overflow somewhere...  here's some of what I'll probably include:  Relationships.  Family meetings- topics to discuss, outings with each kid 1:1, Matt's outings with kiddos, family fun night, special plan for Matt and I (we love an intentional at home date night).  For Personal, instead of just piling up more books on my bedside table that I'm in the middle of reading.... still...  I'm going to try to finish reading a book by a finish date (some books, like devotionals, might go under "Worship" or maybe "Relationship".)

Lastly, it's a good thing for me to remember....  Rocks are Hard.  It's hard to get up early, but it's worth it.  It's even a bit harder for me to go to bed early, but it's crucial.    It's hard to carve out time to plan, but I get a serious more done when I do, and almost always, I get the more important things done only when I plan.  Rocks are hard....  but oh to make it happen!  

"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."  Psalm 90:12

Enjoy the printable dear friends!
(Being that the professionalism of this blog is just... well... nonexistent, if you'd like to print this but don't know how (I don't know either!) please email me or comment and I can send you the file as an attachment that will be cake to print :)

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Visited Planet

This post (from March of last year) at Justin Taylor's blog (which is always a favorite of mine)  is a magnificent read for the Christmas season.  Taylor included the perfect introduction in his post for the short story that I've reposted below.

May we ever be captivated by the grandeur of our God and may this short-story of rich imagination, thoughtful, Scripture-honoring fiction awaken fresh awe and soul-humbling gratitude and worship in us..... (the tiny, yet known, cared for, and loved ones.)  

The Visited Planet, by J.B. Phillips.

Once upon a time a very young angel was being shown round the splendours and glories of the universes by a senior and experienced angel. To tell the truth, the little angel was beginning to be tired and a little bored. He had been shown whirling galaxies and blazing suns, infinite distances in the deathly cold of inter-stellar space, and to his mind there seemed to be an awful lot of it all. Finally he was shown the galaxy of which our planetary system is but a small part. As the two of them drew near to the star which we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis. It looked as dull as a dirty tennis-ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and glory of what he had seen.

“I want you to watch that one particularly,” said the senior angel, pointing with his finger.
“Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me,” said the little angel. “What’s special about that one?”
“That,” replied his senior solemnly, “is the Visited Planet.”
“Visited?” said the little one. “you don’t mean visited by ——–?
“Indeed I do. That ball, which I have no doubt looks to you small and insignificant and not perhaps overclean, has been visited by our young Prince of Glory.” And at these words he bowed his head reverently.
“But how?” queried the younger one. “Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince, with all these wonders and splendours of His Creation, and millions more that I’m sure I haven’t seen yet, went down in Person to this fifth-rate little ball? Why should He do a thing like that?”
“It isn’t for us,” said his senior a little stiffly, “to question His ‘why’s', except that I must point out to you that He is not impressed by size and numbers, as you seem to be. But that He really went I know, and all of us in Heaven who know anything know that. As to why He became one of them—how else do you suppose could He visit them?”
The little angels face wrinkled in disgust.
“Do you mean to tell me,” he said, “that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?”
“I do, and I don’t think He would like you to call them ‘creeping, crawling creatures’ in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them. He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him.”
The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.
“Close your eyes for a moment,” said the senior angel, “and we will go back in what they call Time.”
While the little angels eyes were closed and the two of them moved nearer to the spinning ball, it stopped its spinning, spun backwards quite fast for a while, and then slowly resumed its usual rotation.
“Now look!” And as the little angel did as he was told, there appeared here and there on the dull surface of the globe little flashes of light, some merely momentary and some persisting for quite a time.
“Well, what am I seeing now?” queried the little angel.
“You are watching this little world as it was some thousands of years ago,” returned his companion. “Every flash and glow of light that you see is something of the Father’s knowledge and wisdom breaking into the minds and hearts of people who live upon the earth. Not many people, you see, can hear His Voice or understand what He says, even though He is speaking gently and quietly to them all the time.”
“Why are they so blind and deaf and stupid?” asked the junior angel rather crossly.
“It is not for us to judge them. We who live in the Splendour have no idea what it is like to live in the dark. We hear the music and the Voice like the sound of many waters every day of over lives, but to them—well, there is much darkness and much noise and much distraction upon the earth. Only a few who are quiet and humble and wise hear His Voice. But watch, for in a moment you will see something truly wonderful.”
The Earth went on turning and circling round the sun, and then quite suddenly, in the upper half of the globe, there appeared a light, tiny but so bright in its intensity that both the angels hid their eyes.
“I think I can guess,” said the little angel in a low voice. “That was the Visit, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, that was the Visit. The Light Himself went down there and lived among them; but in a moment, and you will be able to tell that even with your eyes closed, the light will go out.”
“But why? Could He not bear their darkness and stupidity? Did He have to return here?”
“No, it wasn’t that” returned the senior angel. His voice was stern and sad. “They failed to recognise Him for Who He was – or at least only a handful knew Him. For the most part they preferred their darkness to His Light, and in the end they killed Him.”
“The fools, the crazy fools! They don’t deserve —-”
“Neither you nor I, nor any other angel, knows why they were so foolish and so wicked. Nor can we say what they deserve or don’t deserve. But the fact remains, they killed our Prince of Glory while He was Man amongst them.”
“And that I suppose was the end? I see the whole Earth has gone black and dark. All right, I won’t judge them, but surely that is all they could expect?”
“Wait, we are still far from the end of the story of the Visited Planet. Watch now, but be ready to cover your eyes again.”
In utter blackness the earth turned round three times, and then there blazed with unbearable radiance a point of light.
“What now?” asked the little angel, shielding his eyes.
“They killed Him all right, but He conquered death. The thing most of them dread and fear all their lives He broke and conquered. He rose again, and a few of them saw Him and from then on became His utterly devoted slaves.”
“Thank God for that,” said the little angel.
“Amen. Open your eyes now, the dazzling light has gone. The Prince has returned to His Home of Light. But watch the Earth now.”
As they looked, in place of the dazzling light there was a bright glow which throbbed and pulsated. And then as the Earth turned many times little points of light spread out. A few flickered and died; but for the most part the lights burned steadily, and as they continued to watch, in many Parts of the globe there was a glow over many areas.
“You see what is happening?” asked the senior angel. “The bright glow is the company of loyal men and women He left behind, and with His help they spread the glow and now lights begin to shine all over the Earth.”
“Yes, yes,” said the little angel impatiently, “but how does it end? Will the little lights join up with each other? Will it all be light, as it is in Heaven?”
His senior shook his head. “We simply do not know,” he replied. “It is in the Father’s hands. Sometimes it is agony to watch and sometimes it is joy unspeakable. The end is not yet. But now I am sure you can see why this little ball is so important. He has visited it; He is working out His Plan upon it.”
“Yes, I see, though I don’t understand. I shall never forget that this is the Visited Planet.”

Sunday, December 8, 2013

May Thousands More Rise Up

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  
John 15:13
The Gospel of Jesus Christ that we proclaim is the most radical beauty, the most sacrificially giving love.  It stands in bold contrast to the world:  Jesus calls us " come to me and follow me even to laying down your life for your enemies" versus most religions and voices of the world, "be, have, do the best."  Give your life away and you will have all gain.  Quest for gain and superiority and self-satisfaction and all you'll have is loss.  (Matt 16:26)

In Jesus, we see loving-to-death beauty.  This is what's all over the story of Ronnie Smith's life too, it seems.  Ronnie Smith, a well-loved chemistry teacher at an international school in Benghazi, Libya, was murdered, shot multiple times, last Thursday while he jogged near the U.S. Consulate there where he lived.  His wife and 3 year old son had returned to the states before him and were waiting just a few more days to celebrate Christmas with him there.  
John Piper wrote a post about him, sharing, "I want to respond because Ronnie wrote to us at Desiring God last year and told us that one of my messages was significant in leading him and his family to Libya."  The whole post is weighty, if you can even read it through tear eyes.   Here's a bit of it...
...The whole point of Ronnie’s life is that there is something worse than death. So he was willing to risk his own life to rescue others from something far worse. And he could risk his own life because he knew his own risking and dying would work for him “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). And he knew God was able to meet every need of his wife and son (Philippians 4:19).
We are not playing games. When I preach that risk is right, I know what I am doing. When I say, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him — especially in suffering,” I know what suffering may mean. When I say, “Fear not, you can only be killed” (Matthew 10:28), I take seriously the words of Jesus: “Some of you they will put to death. . . . But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:1618).
Finally, I call thousands of you to take Ronnie’s place. They will not kill us fast enough. Let the replacements flood the world. We do not seek death. We seek the everlasting joy of the world — including our enemies. If they kill us while we love them, we are in good company. Jesus did not call us to ease or safety. He called us to love for the sake of his name. Everywhere. Among all peoples.
Anita and Hosea, I love you. I am sorry, so sorry, for your loss. I admire you and Ronnie profoundly. Hold fast to this: “God has not destined you (or Ronnie) for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9–10).
Amen.  Yes, Lord.  Yes...  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

a teary good-bye

We feel blessed so lavishly by the Lord to give us these grandparents for our children.... and so lavishly by blessed by them!  That they would fly half way around the world, endure the 12 hour time switch, slog through traffic and pollution with us, battle tummy bugs and the sweet humility of being an infant with no speaking ability (but handy- to have grandkids that can translate!  Even Vivi got her chance to help grandma!)...Then, too, all gifts upon gifts that you gave.  We are so blessed by these tremendous parents/grandparents.  Dale & Mary, we praise the Lord for the blessing you are.

The photos below are just a smattering of memories made together... bummer I didn't have my camera with me for the French Chocolate Temptation and the kids savoring that with you, or the red emperor / empress outfits that how many little photography staff girls helped you two get into?  Though I know for the latter, it would have been best not to post them even if I did get any! 

this boy is so committed to, so deeply devoted to and in love with his grandparents
and he's good at photo bombing!

these two got a walk and shop outing together to buy a few trinkety gifts for siblings
(she loves gift giving like her grandma)

oh yes, and "the best toy ever in the world" Nerf bow and arrow and the zaney archer

Vivi is officially addicted to Patty Cake and "Little to Market" and the tickles that come for "all the way home"
snuggle muffin
and a new card game!  Thanks for teaching us King in the Corner
and thanks for all the good reads...

Thanks to the crazy gift giving family of ours who sent the LEGO Millenium Falcon for the boys
that crazy Lego package.....  he didn't want to do anything else till it was finally built

Mary Lyn(n) the perfect doll for the girl with Mary and Lynn grandmothers

lots of love for the littlest treasure monkey
We love you so much dear YeYe and NaiNai.  I hope the volcanic activity on your flight path home doesn't keep you grounded in Beijing for long!  It feels terrible knowing you're in country but not in our home!  We love you so!!!