Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best Read Alouds of 2015


We must include a little shout out of K gladness over a few of the books that blessed us best this year.  

I didn't exactly keep up with my goal of 2 books a month... but I think I did finish 15 books and I'm grateful and content with that.  (More next year though!)  Saving Leonardo (By Nancy Perkins) was a surprising favorite read for me.   (Very grateful for the friend, TS, who loaned it to me who shared that the intro and concluding chapters were worth the most consideration.  It's all excellent art history in the middle, but if you can ponder those first and last chapters, you'll have enough to mull over for months!)  For other books, there's just too many more reflections to record here...

But now a few awards must be given to our K favorites, the best books I read aloud to our kids this year.  

(if only I could change a cover!)
Twice Freed, by Patricia St. John.  Historical fiction based on the story of the slave Onesimus, that Paul wrote about to the slave owner Philemon.  How awesome to track with this young boy on his journey to manhood, his search for truth, his travels and abuse, his crimes and the grace that broke in on him to finally give him sight and life.  So Paul, who wrote the nonfictional, brief letter Philemon in the Bible, he's a fictional character in these pages and he speaks the real words of scripture to the huddled little crowds that pressed in to hear him teach.  You can hear him!  You can see their faces!  ...when you read these pages.  Privileged grace to walk with Onesimus, to meet Paul, to know Christ in this story.   I think every Christian should read this book.  The living dynamic of meeting Paul and hearing him speak the words we know him to write is just too great a front-row seat for anyone to miss.  Truly, this book can deeply warm Christians of any age, stoke a flame for giving all to the One Worthy.  I highly recommend it as fuel for family discussion and discipleship for all in Christ.  


Kingdom Tales, by David Karen and Mains.  Our second reread.  And there will be more, many more rereads ahead to our kids, and, I pray, to our grands...  I admit, that I don't love the setting of this book.  There's some dated oddness there.  But oh, these chapters, this story, the incredible wisdom tucked into these do-ably short chapters.  If I could, I would buy a copy for every family I know.  Every Grandparent should grab a copy to pour over with their littles....  there's so much life, wisdom, beauty, worthy soul hunger in these pages.  Amanda's battle with the dragon, the Enchanter's deceptive saying, the slogan he has posted around the city, the King in his disguises and the names of the King being sent like arrows to pull back the veil of blindness and death...  Rich beyond words.  Our souls are much profited by these very favorite stories.  



 I, Juan de Pareja, by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino.  This is just plain extraordinary literature.  The writing, the scenery, the history, the characters, the longings, the fulfillment....  Exquisite.  Historical fiction based on some true pieces of life from this great painter Diego Velasquez and his beloved, loyal, admirable slave and better friend.  A privilege to enjoy this one with the kids.


Keeping Holiday by Starr Meade.  This is much the same flavor book as Kingdom Tales.  Keeping Holiday, as Matt would say, is no Narnia or Lord of the Rings, (and I wouldn't put it on the same heights as Kingdom Tales either) but it is a worthy contribution for exactly what it is: the telling of how children who grow up knowing about holidays, can come to know the Truer, Fuller, Real Holiday.  There are a few pages, scenes in these chapters, that we've recalled and retraced and questioned and enjoyed retelling again at the table...  a very special family read at Christmas.  

If this was Matt's post... his list would be entirely different.  We have a slightly crazy pattern of reading LOTS with our kids and he and I choose quite differently.  I love it.  I read in the afternoon, after lunch usually, and Matt reads most nights at bedtime.  Sometimes our kids have mentioned that their friends watch more movies than us.  I point them back to the joy it is for our family to take in books, stories read aloud, together, and this usually calms the comparison storms as they recognize that there is a lot of family joy for us in feasting our ears and minds and hearts on excellent STORY together, read aloud and savored like fine wine (well, they wouldn't say that, but it's true).    

We like to discuss every angle we can consider together and this just seems to happen better with books than with movies, probably because there seems to me to be a higher quality of brilliance in the stories that are written rather than most of the movies that are made these days.  To be sure, there are some excellent and profound movies, and sometimes some fantastic silly movies, to enjoy as a family too.  But these four books surpassed any movie I've heard of or seen this year.  They kept us talking long at the table and at bedtime for weeks...  I'm so grateful for these authors, these characters, these stories, to share with our family, to love and grow with these stories together.  


*And for the record of joy here:  Matt finished all one thousand plus pages of Lord of the Rings with our kids this year and, of course, it will be reread in years to come too.  Tolkien's works were worthy of highest consideration when we were pondering names for our children.  There is deep love for all things Tolkien, Lewis and Chesterton around these parts.  


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

swim-gift!


So we were just a bit wildly spoiled by these dear friends and treated to an afternoon of swimming, a kids Christmas party together!  Thanks Js!!!  Our family is so blessed to share life here with these two families....  4 kids each, 6 boys and 6 girls between us. (Our littlest cupcake eater was a bit too cold to cooperate with the group shot here!)

the big girls, super beauties inside and out!

their miserable faces
She was intent on that blue cupcake...  (complete with sharks on the aqua icing... perfect for our pool party!  Way to go AJ!)

The Boys....  6 boys, 3 families, 3.5 year spread


Of these six, the oldest three boys- one from each family- are in a catechism class with Matt.  They go through the New City Catechism (free app... I hope you all have!?) weekly.  

Here's the "Cat Class Boys"

my fav pic of the day.  The amazing Jack!
High-flying Eli
our very own ironman cannon baller, Isaiah!

the middle two girls....  our six girls are about 10 years spread apart.  Vivi's kind of on her own on the little end but she also gets lots of loving from the big girls often enough!

So soo grateful for these dear friends to do life with here!  Grace from God to have these kids right in at our kids' ages and to have their moms and dads for Matt and I too!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas Greetings! {2015}

Sorry friends, It took us a few extra days to get to a friends' house to have a photographer to take a family photo... and then many more days to get our internet confangled (for the hundredth time!) to let us get on foreign sites (blogspot) so that we could post our greeting to you this year.


And despite mom's hair being forgotten yet again, left in a housewife bun (like every day), we got almost every eye looking toward the camera and just at the second I could pull one little hand down from her nose,  Daddy hugged us altogether to lean gently in on him (like we do with earnest every day), mom forgot to smile a less toothy grin, Marian posed all ladylike as if quiet, mild meekness was her norm, John smiled so you know he's a strong, humble thread of humor and compassion in our home, and Vivi just about slid off Isaiah's lap, somehow, nearly taking down the biggest brother, still helpful and wonderful as ever, along with her.... while she pretended to be more of a space head than the silliest silly she truly is.  

This is us.   A pile of messy, graced Ks sending all of you lots of love and cheer for a Merry Merry Christmas celebrating the Savior and all the joy He's filled our lives with!  


Wishing you a very happy 2016!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Advent & Christmas Joys {2015}


To have this sparkle-in-the-darkness chance, this perfect way to awaken our souls from the drab and dreary, to alert our souls to things worthy of hunger, sacrifice and worship.  This intentional beholding, remembering, retelling the story, the Gift, the Savior come for us, this is the gift of Advent and Christmas.  Oh my soul... behold the gift of this.  Christmas is awe and wonder-worthy worlds beyond the glimmer and cheer that's so shallow here.

It's no small thing and needs no improvement.  The story of the Word of God.... that word spoken millennia ago that created with such power that our universe is still expanding because of it today.... the Word made flesh, to dwell among us, to feed and heal and love us, to die for us and give us life in Him.



I'm grateful Matt is totally onboard with a nontraditional approach to our family Christmas.  Our path-less-travelled choices for Christmas are very intentional, and we pray earnestly that our little K family Christmas traditions here will weigh heavy with glory in our kids' hearts and lives, heavy with joy as a pattern for our family.

It's true, our kids will be growing up without a madhouse of unwrapping a pile of gifts from under a tree.    I've been told this will wound them.  (Even our family who love gifts and bless with gifts so kindly, thoughtfully, generously, well...  they haven't said this.  But some have.)

I say, wound us, Lord.  Chisel away our pride and sense of entitlement ("Santa gave me this 'cause I was good") and all the materialism, discontentment, selfishness and gluttony of every kind, and all comparing and boasting that filled my Christmases as a youth, and that still try to weed their way into my heart even without gifts under the tree.   This is YOUR Day!  Fill us with a joy beyond anything in this world at Christmas.    We'll do gifts later....  really, any other time will do.



We celebrate very intentionally, music and sweets and serving and sharing together and kindness and thankful notes filling up our stockings all month long.    Every evening setting up another ornament on the Jesse Tree banner, adding to the stories of the Story that points us all toward Christ.  

And finally, amidst all the celebration, it seems fitting to let one moment be lean.  We pause for a simple, humble meal on Christmas Eve, a time and a place to remember the road weary travelers, Joseph and Mary, the unknowns ahead of them in Bethlehem, the fears and pains and tiredness and probably hunger after such a long journey, the lonely labor she would soon endure...

And then crescendo of Highest Joy!  Kings Joy!  It took a host of angels to announce it then, and we turn it up loud in the morning too.  Come, bed heads, Rejoice!    The peak of celebration!

It simply does not get better than celebrating our King!  He came! For us! Oh God arouse us from all that dims and dulls our minds, our hearts, longing, waiting, hungering and thirsting for you. We want to be filled with You. May our advent waiting and looking deepen the true spirit kind of hungering and thirsting that you promise to fill.  You are the Gift we want most.  We want more, much more, of you, in our lives, your glory, your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

At the table?  The best breakfast we can dream into reality.   (Gingerbread pancakes, thanks Alycia!) We share creative beauty, to unwrap and discover with each other, and any who can join us? songs, art, poems, verses recited, dance:  all gifts for the King!

Those notes we've written up all month long and stuffed in stockings .... all cheer to read and reread, steady smiles and laughter all around...  the kids get paid for and that money gets added to their giving fund.  And since giving to Jesus, means giving to the least of these, that's what we do.  Sewing machines and goats purchased as resources for rescued slaves.  Tuition for school, Biblical training, small business loans, medical payments made....  and more this year!   

This year, our kids wanted to be able to make their own crafty gifts for each other  and it turned out to be a fun way to show kindness and care. Since Matt jokes with the kids all the time about how they need to be saving up to get him a cane...  Marian "made" this one for him (ie. she found stick and tied a ribbon on it.)








For us, Christmas is about more and better than gifts all wrapped small in packages under a tree.   And if we stack up gifts right there, there's no way our crew is not going to hinge their celebration on those things.   But gifts are good too.  Our family is getting to head south into sunshine in just a few weeks and January won't be finished before we get to do a Family Gift day there!  Such a treat for us to find things other than what shops around us here sell.  There's a lot of beauty in learning to care for loved ones especially, specifically well and we want our chance at this too.  To celebrate a special gift chosen, given, well received....  gifts for the sake of gifts, the joy of blessing some loved one really well?  How fun!  We totally look forward to this gift time with each of our kiddos too, in it's own, fitting time.

And I must mention!  Our kids super enjoyed a package from Grandma and Grandpa full of gifts that actually arrived on Christmas Day (not a holiday where we live).  They loved it!  It was a cheer for everyone.... such generosity, as always from these guys!  To me, I love that our kids are learning to associate the generosity and kindness with the gift givers and not as much this holiday.  They know that their grandma and grandpa love to bless them so kindly with delighted in and delicious gifts!

We heard Matt Chandler preach this advent and he mentioned how inevitable it is that when we're packing up our Christmas things, we always tend to feel a sting of disappointment.  I definitely do long to do more, to celebrate better, to give to friends around me more and better, to delight together with my kids more deeply in the wonder of the Savior....  but the reality is that I feel, and I think our whole family is, much more gloriously attuned to Christmas and much less disappointed with it all when our celebration does not revolve around and, honestly, when it doesn't even include gifts for us.





And I'm grateful for friends who care to understand our craziness even to read this far!  Such a privilege and a pleasure to be with you in heart, dear friends, celebrating the birth of our Savior together with you.... no matter what shape your celebration or ours takes... we are together in pointing all our hearts and lives to Christ!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Noel

Because these words, this voice and tune are a worthy gift to the King... as worthy as this fallen world can make to give to Him.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

far far away

We're back!  We didn't even go anywhere, but we've felt farther (further?) away than normal because we haven't had internet for a few weeks in our home.  So glad to be able to be back with you here!

Here's a few snapshots of winter life from our crazy, messy, November baseball, heaps-of-December-snow, Lordpleasegivemepatience, friend-filled, hopefully joyful, home...

this little love makes the *best* tea parties around...

warming up for baseball with the team!
she found a buddy at the field

the boys I adore... all three

on their way to bed
(That's a wave to you Grandma and Grandpa!)

mid Nov we hosted a part Reformation/ part Tapestry of Grace Middle Ages party

this handmedown dress came at the perfect time!
and then there was the day when the stairs became a slide with the school room couch pillow and each step became a trophy, of one kind, or another...

Mom liked the idea of sled better than skis (please!?)


Happy Thanksgiving!  This was a precious group of friends to share with...

We were all surprised at how deep the snow was from just one night (...maybe 2.5 feet?) 

Honest... that really is a smile on her freezing face!

love this girl


and this sweet boy too!


If you look just above the roof of the square gazebo at the bottom, you can just see the outline of the kids snow fort made of snow (ice) balls that came as high as Isaiah's waist.  Actually, Isaiah has been the bravest (by far) to build long hours on this better than (at least bigger than) lego creation.   What a delight to see him growing and making such great things!   I call it Stonehenge in the Snow.

(more soon.... from treasureful advent time)


Saturday, November 21, 2015

In Response to a Balanced View on Immigration

I deeply respect Pastor Kevin DeYoung.  Over and over again he has brought insight and wisdom and laughter for Matt and I as we've considered issues with him from his blog posts.  We are very grateful for this man, for his Biblical teaching and his writing.   He has more good thoughts for the immigration issue we face now and I like many of his points, like how we need to consider the importance of sovereign nation states.  And yet, this time, I want to humbly offer a point of disagreement, in the spirit of Christ-exalting discussion.  

Pastor DeYoung, wrote "Christian charity means loving the safety of the neighbor next door at least as much as loving the safe passage of the neighbor far away." 


It seems to me that Jesus' words in Luke 10:25-37 don't allow us to prioritize serving the safe neighbor near us and the neighbor in dire need, the victim of violence, equally. He doesn't balance them. 


Isn't Jesus' point in this parable that to love God and love your neighbor means to love the ones in need, even risking to enter into a situation where there's been violence?  A lawyer asked Jesus "who is my neighbor?"  Jesus didn't say it was the guy next door.  It is the one who was unjustly beaten and robbed.   The guy with the current, dire need. When the Samaritan saw the man all crumpled, helpless on the road... it could have been a trap.  He could have been the next victim.   Of course he was scared, but he entered into that mess and loved anyway. THAT is what Jesus said it means to love your neighbor.


And isn't the difference between the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46) not that they cared well for the ones who already have much, are protected and safe, but that they cared for the ones who were in need:  hungry, thirsty, strangers? 


I don't see a way to Biblically argue for protecting our lives here.... that is precisely what the Gospel means.  It's totally radical and it's not a stitch easy.   And that's nothing to shy away from for any reason.  It's something a Christian could only do when ruled by the Hope of Heaven.  We have been called to lay down our lives for the needy.  


For many commenters (on DeYoung's post) who argued that Christians wouldn't be willing to invite refugee families into their own homes.... may they be proved utterly wrong.  


It is exactly because of God's promises and power and eternal truth that Christians ought to be the ones to be reckless and ridiculous in lavish generosity to meet needs for broken, devastated people in this hour.   Heaven is ahead of us!  


When we stand before our King, will there be more glory in having protected the "safety of the neighbor next door" or in risking to provide for the "safe passage of the [needy] neighbors far away?"  [additional word and bold is mine.]  


When our neighbors near and far see our lives, what message are we showing, telling them with our choice here?  If we're out to protect our safety here and now... what are we living for?  Or might it be the best, bold, bright witness to our neighbor next door that they see us open our doors to the needy?  For the world around us, in our country and beyond, to see Christians open their homes and provide for these refugees, it just might speak loudly enough of promises and the absolute certainty of God as our provision and safety, that our lives could be just what He commanded us to be...  like smelling salt to wake a near neighbor from slumber.  


(Now I'm moving to more thoughts on the issue, less directly related to DeYoung's post...)  


Did we think that sacrificial love would be easy? That Christians should only care for others as long as they're safe? Do we think that the Samaritan paid for his battered friend's food and lodging but it somehow didn't cost him anything?  No dust on his knees, no time spent, no money wasted?  Isn't self-sacraficing love to be the stuff that distinguishes the bride of Christ from the world and when does it ever come in a neat and tidy package that doesn't cost?  The Savior sure didn't balance His safety with my need for a safe passage to the Father when he hung on the cross for me.  

This is precisely the thing we aim to share with Muslim friends in imploring them to break free from the deception of Islam... (And let us not be blind with dazzling political correctness to say that Islam is not the reason for this terrorism.  The Koran drives this, the suras abound.  It is a grace indeed that most Muslims we know, most Muslims around the world are, as my husband says, "so much better than their religion.")  We want our friends to see that Muslims are fleeing these Islamic countries. They aren't heading to other Islamic countries (many of which have higher per capita income than ours) but they're heading towards the places that have been influenced by the Self-Sacraficing King and his love and his Word and ways. They are coming to the lands and the peoples who still, at least to the non-west world, are known as "Christian."  Let us take up the banner of Christ in this hour!


May Christ be shown in his people who would be radical enough to follow in his steps... the one who touched lepers and cuddled messy children, who walked into suffering, being beaten and crucified for us. We who follow Him ought to be dirty with the same stuff he was dirty with.  As Amy Carmichael wrote, we ought to be scarred...  not safe.  We ought to be willing to suffer, even rejoicing that we can suffer in serving the least of these...  as serving Him.  (Yes, I know the context of the disciples rejoicing was different, by I think it's still applicable, considering Matt 25:40, 45 and Hebrews 13:2 and all of Hebrews 11.  I believe it goes against the spirit of much scripture and the heart of God to say that these verses mean we should only show care for Christians in need.- Lev 19:34, John 4:1-42.)  


Yes, of course, we'll get wounded in this. (We'll be wounded somehow...  either as uninvolved Parisians or risk-taking, radical servants rescuing lives.  May it be that our suffering be for our King's glory!)   Isn't the climax of Hebrews 11 a long list of wounds received in the body of Christ?  May we, the church of Christ, welcome refugees in faith... as the ones who have gone before us in that chapter.  May we do it with our eyes on the Reward to come.  


Yes, of course it will take courage, power, wisdom, sacrifice. Is our God not sufficient to give us all this that we need? Is He enough, His word sufficient... to be courage and power for us?  If we think not, we have great reason to question the name by which we're calling ourselves.  


Lord, give us faith to walk in your ways, willing to suffer, to bind up the wounds of the broken, to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, to create jobs and even share our homes.  (Give me courage to act!  Give me Faith to follow you, Jesus.)  And may it result in eternal glory and eternal joy for us and for the lost... eternal glory for You.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Allegiance

The Lord, he is God and he is good.  
It is he who made us, we are His. 
His love pursues us forever. 

I’ll trust His love and sovereign might
and receive with thankfulness what he gives me today.   
His Word is my guide and my delight.  
His command, my privilege to obey.  

The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, 
who loved me and gave himself for me. 
The life I now live in this world, I’ll live as a light for the praise of my King,
honoring Him and others with love and humility.  

I will gladly sell all to have more of the joy
of God, my great Treasure, my Wisdom, my Way.  
I give all that I am for His glory,
in my character, relationships, learning, work, play.
His joy is my song.  His Word, my anchor and sword.
I live all by His grace and all for His glory.
I pledge my life to my Savior and Lord!



There's a book about habits that starts off with a story of training soldiers, of drilling them with commands that they need to learn to obey with immediacy and precision.  And it struck me how practice and training and rote memorization also have a part in my work of growing up these treasure kids that I love.   

So...Cheers!  Here's a K family pledge of allegiance that I hope will stain our hearts with His beauty as we mull over the wonder and lavish great goodness of God- that we get to live in His love and walk in His ways.  May the words of this pledge be a spirit-true prayer from our hearts and lives... as we pursue Him together who first loved us.  

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Grand Visit

Can I just say...  A thousand cheers and crazy happy Hoorays! for the incredible grandparents who flew around the world, made it through the day of sacrificing sheep (they happily stayed at home) and the day(s) afterward when we had to step over stinky puddles and piles of things on the road, and who generally thrived even through water outages and blessed us extraordinarily just by bringing their fun and card games and memories to laugh about and crazy love for each of us.  Oh!   We are exceedingly blessed by these grands!!




They brought in a crazy load of gifts... including Marian's 8 yr bday smelly treats 
"Spa Day"...  the girls got smelly lotions and facial scrubs and manicures and pedicures with Grandma.  This was their introduction to a phrase that Grandma taught them well on this trip:  "getting pampered."
He took a bite of a nectarine and then ran to look in the mirror and was scared when he saw blood.  It was just his first loose tooth.  Way to save your first tooth for Yeye and Nina's first day with us, buddy!  I asked him to wiggle his tooth so I could see how loose it was and he just wiggled it right out of his mouth.  We had no notice that he even had a wiggly tooth but then it "dropped" (as we say in Chinese) just like that!  



Looks like Yeye, amidst his myriad of talents, doesn't have the knack for the Chinese squat!
at our favorite park in town




Having the grands with us, let Matt and I get out to visit with neighbors during their time of sacrificing,  without having to drag the kid along.  We have such a great group of neighbors.  (since last year's photos were a bit much for a few friends... I'll keep the lamb sacrifice pics off here this time.)  
It's common for kids to get a spot of lamb's blood on their forehead as part of the celebration. 
Most of them are dressed in all their new clothes that were imported with love....
We had a great time just relaxing together, vacation at home days with family.   So, so special! 
lots of reading aloud...
We didn't do many outings, but we did make it to this "resort" near us...  where we could swim and eat 3 meals for the day for about $8/ per kiddo ($13/adult).  A sweet gift to enjoy with a silly fun grandma!  Doesn't she look fabulous in her scrubs/resort wear? 



this girl is a storyteller.... with full dramatic effects
love these high flying boys
Thank you for coming, for blessing us with the best gift.... Time With You!  We love you Grandma and Grandpa!