Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Letters In One Place

Moving always gets me thinking about the people I left behind, the ones that changed me with their presence in my life. Some are obvious but others may never know the positive impact they had on my life, on the person I have become. This year, as I moved and turned 40, I have been thinking a lot about the various people I have met along the way. In the olden days, I might have gotten out my engraved stationary and sent them a letter. In today's world, in my world, I am going to be posting these letters on my blog. Saves me paper and postage, and more importantly, hopefully reminds us each of the impact we have on one another's lives because from each of these people, I have learned how to be a better person.  

Here are the letters written so far all in one place. 

To My Noble Friend
To the Missionaries...
You Show Up
You Made Me Brave
Dear Mrs. N. 
To My Fashionista Friend
To My English Speaking Church Family
Dear American Club Ladies
Letter to a Friend

Friday, December 20, 2013

To My Noble Friend

To My Noble Friend,

I am often quick to give advice. I like to problem solve. But if you don't like that idea, I can think of another. I know I don't have all the answers but I am certainly one to try to think of lots of different solutions.

Over the last few years I have had a friend facing an interesting challenge. We would often talk about how to handle this situation, we would vent to one another when a new page of the saga was turned on one of us, we would commiserate and pray and hope and dream of a future where we didn't have to deal with this any longer. I was the luckier one because distance allowed me to avoid most of the drama but my friend was tied to it with a web of relationships that intertwined and crossed over and over binding her to the challenge.

I would give her advice or make suggestions about how I would solve the problem. I am quick to cut ties that bind me to darkness and pain and challenge. But my friend, she is quick to show grace. To give unwarranted love to those around her. She is humble and quick to point to her part of the problem, humility incarnate. She is self-sacrificing in the most beautiful and Christ-like way.

Recently, I found myself in a very similar situation. My worlds here overlap. I go to church with people from school, sit in the hockey stands with people from church and school. Relationships overlap and a web is created that cannot be detangled without destroying the very thing you are trying to build. And suddenly all my advice fell flat.

You cannot problem solve people.

You can love others but you cannot make them love you. You can speak the truth but you cannot make people listen. You can give more than you will ever receive. You can humble yourself. You can set boundaries for yourself but you cannot force others to change.

I had never really understood the complexity of my friend's situation. But I do now.

And now I know deeply how noble my friend is.

Because I don't know if I have the patience, the humility, the love that my friend has always shown, even when she never wanted to. Because for my friend, love and grace, emulating Christ in this world, are more important than being right.

I like being right. I like solving problems.

Thanks my noble friend for showing me the way. I don't think I can walk that road as beautifully as you do but I am glad we get to walk together.



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I Miss My Mom

I miss my mom.

I don't miss the drama. I don't miss the competition. I don't miss the anxiety. I don't miss the changing stories that seem aimed to pierce me.

 I am not even sure I miss my mom. She is very much alive just in case that was confusing.

But I do miss having a mom.

I miss having a soft place to land. I miss having a cheerleader who is in my corner. I miss having someone to go Christmas shopping and out to lunch together. I miss having someone to call if all hell breaks loose, who will swoop in and help on a moments notice. I miss having someone to talk to who I know will give me wise advice but still love me when I go another way. I realize I may be missing something that is not real but only imagined after reading too many books and seeing too many holiday movies. But I still miss it.

I know that I am not alone. I know mothers and daughters often have challenging relationships.

But some of us have harmful ones. And there is a difference.

I do not feel safe with my mom. I do not feel that she loves me, just the idea of her daughter. I do not feel that she has my best in mind.

I don't like to air dirty laundry. And I hate speak badly about someone else. I wish I could write all this without mentioning her. But there is no way to couch this. To write vaguely enough because our moms are core to our being. Not that they have to be biological or even female, but we all need that person, the one person that has our back no matter what. And when you don't have that person, the loss is always there, sometimes a dull ache, sometimes a sharp pain, sometimes just a weakness you feel when you turn the wrong way.

I wouldn't write this at all except I know I am not alone.

And even if I am, I am sad today. I am missing having a mom today.

After I first posted this, ohhh the guilt set in. I should write all the good things about my mom too... except, I don't have a lot of those memories. Not that she wasn't a good mom but that my memories are tainted by all the rest of it. And the guilt remains. But this is honest and true for me today.

You can read more of our story and my disclaimer here (or click on the Blog Series button at the top of the page) and reading the posts listed under My Story.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas Memories - No Rope

This year my husband, I think knowing that the holidays are always a bit tough for me the first year we move, agreed to going to a UCut tree farm. Finally. We took the kids a few weekends ago and it brought back so many memories of walking through the hundreds of trees with my brothers trying to find the perfect tree. Which reminded me of one of my favorite tree buying stories. I have posted this story the last few years because each time it brings me such joy. I think it worries my husband.

Without further ado...

Did I ever tell you about the time we forgot to bring rope to the Christmas tree farm?

It is a favorite family story, at least for my family. I think it causes my husband anxiety.

The story begins with a van load of kids and two parents driving about a mile from our house to a nearby Christmas tree farm. Living in Oregon you end up passing multiple tree farms on a quick trip to Costco. It seems that any farm land left has trees growing on it. Most of these trees are actually cut down at the end of November and sent south, where Californians pay a crazy amount for a real live noble fir. I will be one of those crazy Californians this year.

Anyway, the family, including the six teenage foster kids that lived with us at the time were all walking through the muddy tree farm looking for the perfect tree. (There seems to be a theme to my Christmas tree stories.)

We looked at trees that looked perfect on one side but had a huge hole in the back. It always reminded me of a big civil war era hoop skirt tucked into a girl's pantaloons in the back.

We looked at trees that were too tall or too short. Someone started grumbling, most likely my dad. Someone started whining, probably me but since this is my blog I'll blame my little brother.

Finally the good enough tree was found and cut down. Again, there were people kneeling down on coats and a few choice phrases uttered as the handsaw got caught in the tree trunk. The wet needles flickering drops of water on everyone nearby as it is carried back to the car.

We, and by we I mean the grown ups and my big brother, finally get the tree on top of the van ready to be tied down.

But there is no rope.

And here is where my memory gets foggy because I would assume that the tree farm had string. The fancy tree farm we took our kids to when we lived in Oregon had string. They also let you preselect your tree in September before the California trees were harvested. And then they cut the tree down for you on the day you preselected for pick up. Maybe our childhood tree farm was not that fancy.

So we had the tree on top of the van but nothing to tie it down. And here is where my family becomes the Griswolds because the solution they found was to have my big brother lie on top of the tree, on top of van, holding on to the luggage rack, while my dad drove the van full of the rest of the family home.

Seriously. We drove a mile or so with a Christmas tree and my brother on top of the van.

We love this story. It is the essence of my family. Pragmatic and determined. Safety conscious...not so much.

I think the image of one of our boys on top of the van may be why my husband does not like that story.

Because truthfully, left  in the same situation, I might try it. Hockey Boy is pretty strong.

Update - (I posted this link on my Facebook page where my brother read it. He confirms the story except for me forgetting to mention the rain and cold. Longest mile of his life he wrote.)

Can you please help settle a debate between the kids who lived this story and the spouses who are slightly (or more) horrified by this story. Was this a horrible thing for my parents to do? Or a funny Griswold type moment?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

This Advent Season

I grew up in Evangelical churches. Ones that broke out the Christmas carols as soon as Thanksgiving was over. Where advent focused on the celebration of Christ's coming, where the candles are lit each week as part of the revelry of Christmas. I have loved the joy and majesty of the season. I love singing Carols and having the church lit by twinkly lights.

We attend a Lutheran church now. Our Sunday services marked by the liturgy, of the saying of the Lord's Prayer and taking communion before end each Sunday morning. A church that uses a lectionary of Scripture readings to guide the sermons and services. And this lectionary starts on the first Sunday of Advent, the start of the new church year.

Advent looks different in the Lutheran church. My husband and I have both noticed it. It is more somber, more quiet in the first weeks. Dark almost.

Church on Sunday mornings this month have not felt like Christmas to me. There have been no carols or bells or Merry Christmases. There are advent candles, there are shepherd and sheep on display but missing the rest of the nativity scene. Purple cloth is wrapped across the stoic wood and glass chandelier.

And yet, I am beginning the realize that this is how the days leading up to the first Christmas must have felt like for Mary and Joseph and those waiting for the Messiah. Dark days of oppressive Roman rule, of harsh religious leaders making unbearable demands, of a silent God. All the darkness pointing to the need for light.

I understand more why a Lutheran advent is somber. But it is also expectant - for the Christ child is coming.

This Advent has changed Christmas for me.

But I still miss the carols and twinkly lights.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

From the Archives: Jesus Expected

This morning at the mom's group at church, we were discussing advent - this sacred time each year when we stop and remember with expectation the birth of Jesus. As we were talking this morning, I was reminded of the lesson I taught last December at the mom's group in California. I am posting the lesson I taught again today because I can always use a reminder about Jesus Expected, especially at this time of year.

It was Christmas time, four years ago. I was sitting in my friend’s living room with a small group of friends from church. We were in our Christmas pajamas, painting our toe nails read with white polka dots. The conversation drifted easily from topic to topic, our kids, our Christmas preparations, books we were reading or cookies we were making. The talk moved onto New Year’s resolutions. I half listened. I do not like New Year’s resolutions, mostly because I don’t like to fail.

But then someone said they wanted to read the whole Bible and everything stopped. That became our shared New Year’s resolution. We would read through the whole Bible, every word, in 2010. If you ever get a chance to do this with someone else, jump at it, because there is something extra special about reading God’s word together. Where each conversation is sprinkled with, “How’s your reading going?” and “Did you read....” My relationship with God was strengthened by spending massive amounts of time reading His word that year but so to were my relationships with those women. Mere acquaintances became dear friends as we read alone in our own homes, knowing we were doing it together.

I will admit though that reading the Bible in a year is a marathon full of sprints to get the daily reading done. I found myself in the fall rushing through the Old Testament prophet  books, my eyes catching the words but not having time to really understand what I was reading. I had no time to stop. No time to decipher its meaning. At the end of 2010, I had finished the whole Bible, and incidentally earned my ticket to a girls weekend with everyone who had finished the task.

It was a year later when I found myself lost. Lost spiritually and emotionally. Not confused or doubting. Not dejected. Just a bit lost, like I was walking through a new village without a map. I could see visual markers that guide me, a church steeple, a red cross on a hospital sign, but I was not sure where I was going - what my destination was. I needed my map, my Bible, but I could not decide where to start, what I was even looking for. And then I remembered. The books I read at warp speed, the ones I meant to go back and study in greater depth but had not. And so I turned to the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah was a prophet, a future teller. God used prophets to speak to His people, to tell them His will. Isaiah was full of warnings to turn away from pride, false worship and seeking protection in other nations instead of in God and if they did not, or more accurately, when they did not horrible things would happen. Isaiah tells of impending destruction and captivity for Israel. But he also tells of a coming savior. In the midst of all this pain and destruction, God will send a Messiah, a savior king. The Israelites, subjugated and held captive, dreamed of this one who would save them.
Isaiah 9:6 -7aFor to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
That was about 600 years before Jesus was born. After centuries of war and oppression and living under the crushing weight of the Roman Empire, the Jews of Jesus' day were eagerly awaiting this Messiah. The one born of the house of David in the town of Bethlehem. This Messiah would blot out injustice, rule as king and judge and fulfill the covenant promises. He would redeem Israel both politically and spiritually and free her from her oppressors.


One night long ago, a baby was born. A child unto us. The angels declared the good news to the shepherds who then ran to Bethlehem to find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. We know this story. And we know that later the wise men from the east visit bringing with them gold, frankincense and myrrh.

But there is a story in between, a story found in Luke 2.

Luke 2:22 - 35
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.” 
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

We read here about Mary and Joseph following Jewish custom and taking baby Jesus to the temple to be dedicated. At the temple they are greeted by Simeon. He had studied the scriptures. He, like most Israelites, was waiting eagerly for the coming Messiah, the king that would raise up an army and throw the evil Roman empire off God’s promised land.

“For my eyes have seen your salvation,
 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
 and the glory of your people Israel.” Seeing baby Jesus, Simeon knows that he has seen God’s salvation for the Israelites, but not just for them alone but for the Gentiles as well. The very people that have held the Jews captive over the centuries.

He goes on to tell Mary that Jesus will cause many to fall and rise in Israel, that he will be rejected and spoken against and that her own soul will be pierced. Not exactly what a mother wants to hear on the day her first born son is dedicated at the temple. Not what she was probably expecting knowing that this baby was the Messiah. 

The story continues.

Luke 2:36 - 38
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Anna knows this is the Messiah. She declares this truth to all those who are awaiting the Messiah, the redeemer of Jerusalem.

First the angels appear and tell the shepherds of the birth of a savior, who they find exactly where the prophets said he would be born.

And then, at the temple, baby Jesus is confirmed as the Messiah by both Simeon and Anna. Two different people touched by the Holy Spirit who were waiting and waiting and waiting for the Messiah to come.

Jesus, this baby born in a manger, was and is the Messiah that the prophets had foreseen.

But was he the Messiah they were expecting? Was he going to be the King of the Jews they were all anticipating? Or was Jesus, like Simeon said, one that would cause people to fall? One that would bring pain to his mother’s soul? One that was for the Gentiles as well?


The Jews of Jesus’ day were expecting a conquering hero. A king which the prophets had proclaimed.  But it seems that many Jews had forgotten the rest of the prophesies. The writings of the suffering servant who would come to save the world.
Isaiah 53:3 - 5He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed. 
Lawrence O. Richards writes in The Teacher’s Commentary, “The Jews’ of Jesus’ day, looking for the coming glory, did not see the majesty of the suffering.” 

The Messiah, the servant king, the redeemer of all of God’s people, came into this world quietly. He lived most of years a small life. It was not until his few years of ministry did anyone even really pay attention to who he was said to be.

As I read though Isaiah, I saw the images put forth of the coming Messiah. I read of the one that would bring justice and turn away those who plundered his people. The savior, who will meet out God’s wrath on the oppressors.

When I think about the Pharisees, the keepers of the law, and wonder why they could not see Jesus was God’s son, I think about what they had been taught about the coming Messiah. I think about how much the expectations of a warrior king were blinding them to what God really intended. Prophesies 600 years old. Turned over and over in people’s minds. The words shifting in meaning over 6 centuries. The expectations of the Messiah changing as the words are passed down from generation to generation to generation. I imagine that as the Israelites scattered, as they lived under harsh rule of other nations, as they dreamed of the coming Messiah, their eyes focused on the passages of scripture that gave them hope of a coming king’s rescue. 

Many missed Jesus, when he was alive and walking the earth because he did not come as they anticipated. He did not meet their expectations of what the Messiah would be. His brutal death on the cross proof to many that he was not the coming one.

We do that too. We declare situations good or bad based on how we want things to be. A lost job is bad. A healthy baby is good. We give absolute value, either positive or negative to things with words like good and bad. What if we shifted our language. What if we used descriptive words such as painful, happy, joy filled, agonizing, depressing, encouraging when describing the events and conditions of our lives. What if we acknowledged that God shows up in all these things and that His being there is good? Not that the death, the loss, the broken relationship is good, no those things hurt and are scary and painful and heartbreaking. But God in them, He is good.

I wonder if we risk missing God altogether when we hold too tightly to how He should appear?