Sunday, December 28, 2008

What She Said

Tonight I'm going to bed early. (Hooray!) But first I want to share with you three bits of the blogosphere that really made my Christmas this year, in that reading them made my heart/mind/soul go "Aha!" and "Aaahhhh..." at the same time.

Two are from an insightful woman young enough to be in the graduating class of 1999 at Rift Valley Academy but with wisdom beyond her years and an eloquence I envy. She's also a tough little cookie, living and serving as she does among prostitutes in South America. Anyway, first is her post of Dec 16 about Zechariah and the cost of being the parent of a child who does crazy things for God. And then her post of Dec 22 about how old, familiar Christmas carols take on a raw, relevant energy in the context of Life Outside The Comfort Zone.

And lastly, the Dec 24 post from the blog of another amazingly insightful woman is really a link to the text of a Christmas Eve homily about angels and their message of hope in response to our tendency to fear. She didn't write these words, but I'm sending you to her blog first because that's how I arrived here and because her blog is fabulous in its own right, as is she.

Thank you, ladies. Your words have brought me great comfort and joy this Christmas.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

You Can Take The Woman Out Of Africa, But You Can Never Take Africa Out Of Her Heart

I can't help but mention that today is the one-year anniversary of the presidential election after which all Hell broke loose in Kenya.

Africa is never far from my thoughts and prayers, but especially on a day like today, the title of this fascinating article on the Times Online site grabbed my attention. It's one thing to hear a testimonial like this from a Christian. But coming from a self-proclaimed unbeliever, it packs a powerful punch: As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God by Matthew Parris

... Now just how to reconcile the deplorable events of last year with the statistics that 78% of Kenyans identify themselves as Christians? Or how about Rwanda in 1994, considered one of the most "Christian" countries in the world (80-90%)? As both a believer in Jesus and a lover of Africa, I am troubled by these blatant inconsistencies.

Then again, if I'm honest about my own "Christian" culture, I can find plenty of troubling things-that-should-never-have-been-said-or-done, right up to the present day, many of them in the name of Christ. Oh Lord, save us from ourselves!

(P.S. Like many of my favorite people, Mr. Parris is a TCK -- a third culture kid. Methinks this has a lot to do with his gutsy, balanced analysis. To read more about TCKs and their unique view of the world, check out this blog site.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Why I Especially Love Christmas

From the squalor of a borrowed stable,
by the spirit and a virgin's faith;
to the anguish and the shame of scandal
came the Saviour of the human race.
But the skies were filled with the praise of heav'n,
shepherds listen as the angels tell
of the Gift of God come down to man
at the dawning of Immanuel!

King of heaven now the Friend of sinners,
humble servant in the Father's hands,
filled with power and the Holy Spirit,
filled with mercy for the broken man
Yes, He walked my road and He felt my pain,
joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet His righteous steps give me hope again -
I will follow my Immanuel!

Through the kisses of a friend's betrayal,
He was lifted on a cruel cross;
He was punished for the world's transgressions,
He was suffering to save the lost
He fights for breath, He fights for me
loosing sinners from the claims of hell;
and with a shout our souls are free -
Death defeated by Immanuel!

Now He's standing in the place of honour,
crowned with glory on the highest throne,
interceding for His own beloved
till His Father calls to bring them home!
Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds
hope of heaven or the fear of hell;
but the Bride will run to her Lover's arms,
giving glory to Immanuel!

(words and music by Stuart Townend, 1999)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Let Them Eat Caviar

In the current economic meltdown, where the bubble of worldwide greed for more-more-more has burst, leaving most everyone affected in one way or another, a diversion: Italian officials recently recovered nearly 90 lbs. of Beluga caviar (worth $550,000) as it was being smuggled into their country from nearby Poland. What to do with the booty? Well, feed it to the poor people of Milan, obviously.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Brain Games in Church

Much as I love living in England, and much as I love our church here, one thing is a real cross-cultural challenge for me: singing old hymns (or in this case, Christmas carols) to a different tune than the (American) one I know. Usually the English version is so stratospherically, highly pitched that, even if I did know the tune, I'd never be able to actually sing it.

Sometimes there are even different words, as in this morning's version of Oh Come All Ye Faithful. Of the six verses, I recognized only the first one. It put quite a damper on my normal, con gusto approach to singing in church, let me just say.

But the biggest brain teaser of all was singing Angels From the Realms of Glory to the tune of Angels We Have Heard On High. The whole first verse I was completely confused and didn't figure it out until the chorus, when everyone else was singing, "Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King!" and all I could think was "Glo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oria, in excelsis Deo!" Once I tracked the tune, I did a bit better, but honestly it was sort of like trying to rub my tummy and pat my head at the same time.

Later in the service we sang one of the first Graham Kendrick songs I ever learned. Whenever I hear it, I'm transported right back to those dimly lit Koinonia gatherings at RVA, and in my head I hear Tim B on guitar and see Kristie M doing the overhead transparencies. Back then I was just beginning to grasp what it means to worship God. It's an ever-continuing journey that, for me, started back then with music. (A decade later, at ICF in Cyprus, it further developed with prayer.)

Anyway, in spite of the silly, narrow us vs. them attitude that I began with this morning, singing that song reminded me how much of my heart-worship has been shaped by the theology of modern British songwriters, how very much I owe them. The lyrics and melodies of Kendrick, Matt Redman and Stuart Townend, among others, have hugely impacted my walk with God.

You could say I walked out of the service less prejudiced, more enlightened and definitely more humbled than I went in.

From heaven You came, helpless babe,
Entered our world, Your glory veiled;
Not to be served but to serve,
And give Your life that we might live.

This is our God, the Servant King,
He calls us now to follow Him, to bring our lives
As a daily offering of worship to the Servant King.

There in the garden of tears,
My heavy load He chose to bear;
His heart with sorrow was torn,
'Yet not My will, but Yours,' He said.

Come see His hands and His feet,
The scars that speak of sacrifice;
Hands that flung stars into space
To cruel nails surrendered.

So let us learn how to serve,
And in our lives enthrone Him;
Each other's needs to prefer,
For it is Christ we're serving.

(Graham Kendrick, 1983)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Writer's Block

The other day I came across a forgotten folder on my desktop, and within it was the holiday newsletter I meant to send out last year. I had intended it to be a Happy New Year greeting, but then came such scary, scary news out of Kenya on December 27th, and further disturbing news a month later, that I was overcome with a sort of mental, emotional and spiritual paralysis. I sure couldn’t finish the letter, and even if I had, I couldn’t bear to send it. Our family’s news seemed less than trivial. The New Year didn’t start out so Happy after all.

(Thankfully, a friend -- you know who you are, Melissa -- recommended a book called When Life and Beliefs Collide by Carolyn Custis James. It's a journey, of course, but this book has been helping me put some of the pieces back together.)

I’m now trying to write our family’s newsletter for this year. In spite of its ominous beginning, 2008 was a good one. Our kids are getting bigger, funnier and even more fun. Matt and I are growing together, and we love living where we live, doing what we do. It turns out that Kenya -- which collapsed in violent anger, racism and chaos in response to their presidential elections at the end of last year -- reunited, rejoiced and danced in the streets last month in response to ours. Who would’ve guessed that?

This Christmas I’m freshly aware of the truth of Isaiah 55:8, where God says, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts… and My ways are far beyond anything you could imagine” (NLT). Right now, in the face of our present reality at this time in history, the Christmas story holds even greater significance for me. The baby born in a stable to a poor, refugee couple turns out to be God’s most potent antidote for all of humanity’s deepest, most desperate needs. It’s an unlikely outcome if ever there was one.

One of my favorite verses in the Christmas narrative is Luke 1:37, when the angel Gabriel tells Mary, “For nothing is impossible with God” (NIV). A year from now I hope to look back on 2009 and see how God once again did the impossible. Especially when it seems unreasonable and unlikely, like Abraham (Romans 4:18) I want to hope-against-hope, believing God for the miracles that only He can do.

Right now, though, it’s still 2008. And I’ve got a newsletter to write.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Celebrating God-With-Us

Usually on Tuesday afternoons a friend brings her two daughters to our house after school. The younger girl is in Jack's class, and her older sister takes piano lessons from a woman who lives across the street from us. So we all walk home from school together, the kids have a drink and a snack, the piano student heads off to her lesson, Jack and Sophie play with her sister and my friend and I have some uninterrupted time to drink tea and talk. Something happened last week that they couldn't come, so this Tuesday was the first time they had come so far in the month of December.

Since December 1st, Jack and Sophie have been opening their advent calendars as soon as we get home. We peel off all the outer layers of weather-wear, Jack turns on the lights of the Christmas tree, we sit down in front of it with their advent calendars and read through the verses, starting at Day 1 and reading all the way to whatever the current day is. Each day's window reveals the next bit of the Christmas story as well as a tasty bite of chocolate.

On Tuesday when we came home with our friends, Jack headed straight for the advent calendars and asked if we were still going to open them. Sure, I said, as long as you're prepared to share your chocolate. He was happy to do that (whose kid is this again???), so I sat there with four eager children instead of two, reading through the verses for Days 1-9 and marveling at the beautiful simplicity in which God often chooses to reveal Himself.

My friend and her daughters are devout Muslims. They must be marginally familiar with the Christmas story from what they've read in the Qur'an and what they've been taught in school. But on Tuesday, almost before I realized what was happening, they were wrapped up in the arms of our little advent ceremony and, rather than being frightened by something strange or offensive, held close by the warmth of our friendship.

Later that evening as we gave thanks for our supper, I asked God's blessing on my friend and her family. As we ate, I said to Jack, That was probably the first time your friends have ever opened an advent calendar.

Really? he said. Why?

Because they're not Christians, I said. (After which I explained that Christian means someone who loves and follows Jesus and that Muslim means someone who believes in God but doesn't think Jesus is His Son and that Muhammed's message was God's final word.)

Jack gave me a funny look, and said, Then why are we friends with them?

Oh honey, I said. We're friends with them because we have lots of fun together. They're good, kind, caring people, and they are such amazingly good friends to us. And because we might be their only friends who know Jesus. By being friends with them, we have a chance to show them God's love in a Jesus-way. And maybe one day they'll come to know Jesus, too. (Inshallah.)

I think one of my many favorite things about the Christmas story is that God comes to ordinary people in extraordinary ways. And sometimes in ordinary ways, too. Jesus was born just like we were, I tell Jack. He became one of us, befriended us in order to show us how great is God's love.

May we do the same at Christmas and all through the year.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

These Are The Moments I Envy My Homeschooling Friends

Me: Jack, time to get dressed for school.

Jack: I don't want to go to school today. I want to stay home with you.

Me: (Trying to think of something special about school this week) Oooh, remember today you're having a Hot Dinner.

Jack: But Mommy, I love you more than Hot Dinners...

(Sweetheart and sweet-talker that he is, I walked him to school anyway.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Status Updates on the Homefront

Recent highs at our house:
* Jack lost his first tooth! Matt is nearly 4,000 miles away and knew he'd miss the big event, but Jack waited to give the final tug until he was on skype with Daddy. Hooray for modern technology!
* Also, Jack learned to tie his shoes! He's becoming a lot more independent these days. (I'm just glad he will still come snuggle on my lap when he wakes up... Not too grown up yet.)
* Sophie has now decided to call herself "Sophie" and me "Laura". How funny! Jack went through a similar phase at this age. He called Matt by his first name for about six months. (We didn't make a big deal out of it, and at some point he stopped. But we thought it was downright hilarious.)

Recent low:
* I woke up this morning without a voice! So strange. I must have misplaced it somewhere. I mean, it was here yesterday... I think I'll give the apple cider vinegar trick another try. It worked like a charm the last time I had a throat-thing. I think I'll also go to bed early tonight and see if I can pre-empt whatever nasty bug is trying to take advantage of the fact that I'm parenting alone this week.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Feed a Cold, Treat the Feet?

I received a bizarre-sounding email forward this week — about the powerful, soothing effects of rubbing Vicks Vapor Rub on the FEET. It's supposed to calm severe coughs and aid peaceful sleep without any side effects, especially in young children. Has anyone else tried this successfully?

We don’t have any Vicks Vapor Rub in the house at the moment, but I do have a homeopathic oil remedy that smells similar. I usually put it on the kids’ chest/back/neck/behind the ears before bed when they have a cold. Anyway, tonight I rubbed this oil all over their feet and between their toes and then put their socks on. So far, I am not kidding, Sophie has coughed ONCE, about a minute after I put her down. All through last night and all day today they were coughing frequently, so the fact that both she and Jack are sleeping soundly and in absolute silence tonight is remarkable.

In case it is helpful for anyone out there, here is the recipe for the “Synergistic Blend” I swear by. (from The Fragrant Pharmacy -- thank you, Clare and Paula!) To 30 ml almond oil, add 10 drops each: lavender, eucalyptus and tee-tree essential oils.

(Also, if my kiddos are congested, I dot a couple drops of eucalyptus essential oil onto their pillowcases or on the shoulder of their pajamas.)

* * * * * * *
Updated to add: Jack slept soundly all night long, except for the bit where Edward went missing in and among the quilts. Sophie slept peacefully until 4 a.m. when she started coughing again. (This was after nine hours of deep sleep.) I got up and reapplied the oil to her feet. And voila! She stopped coughing immediately, went right back to sleep and didn't make a peep until she was ready to get up at 7 a.m. It may not work for everyone, but I think we'll be using this method again!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Playing Hooky

I suppose he could have gone to school today, but with all the sniffling, sneezing and coughing we decided to keep Jack home. He's not exactly Sick but is definitely in need of a day off. Besides, yesterday was the last of four days in a row that his class performed their Christmas program, and I'd be shocked if the teacher planned to do anything substantial in class today. (This is an obvious attempt to ease my guilty conscience. When I was the teacher, I would have frowned most severely on this sort of thing.)

So I'm sitting here listening to Christmas music while Jack and Sophie (also sniffling) are tumbling from one room to another, thoroughly enjoying one another's company. It does my heart good to hear them that way because, of course, it is not always the case! Be kind to one another, I tell them. Your sibling is your Best Friend For Life. Mornings like this one help them feel the truth in Mommy's words.

And I'm sitting here missing Matt, who is on an airplane and will be gone all next week. Yesterday we celebrated our wedding anniversary and even managed dinner! Out! Together! For all the normal ups and downs of married life during the months in between, every year on December 4th, I find myself freshly amazed at how quickly the time has gone by and yet how it feels like we've been together forever. (I think that might be one of the definitions of soulmate?) Anyway, Honey, if you're reading this, I'm so grateful for these first nine years as your wife and would love to have ninety-nine more!

I'm also sitting here thinking of all the things I meant to write about over the past month but somehow never did:
* Crying through the memorial service for a-friend-of-a-friend who was shot dead in Afghanistan on her way to work with disabled children;
* Visiting the largest mosque in Western Europe and being inspired by the devout, industrious women there who passionately work for peace and to help the poor in their local community and abroad;
* Discussing the book of Esther with my Mums' Bible study group and discovering nuances I'd never noticed before, especially in comparing and contrasting Esther and Daniel in their different approaches to living out the same faith in a secular society;
* Celebrating Thanksgiving with our dear English friends and feeling so very much At Home here while desperately missing our families in the States;
* Giving in to the lure of Facebook and reconnecting with friends I'd lost touch with lifetimes ago;
* Going into London by myself earlier this week and reveling in a Day Off from mothering duties, a chance to tour Westminster Abbey and being seated just behind the choir during Evensong;
* Waiting for three hours to see a doctor about Sophie's swollen, purple nose after she dove head-first into the arm of our wooden couch;
* Marveling at the wonder of Jack's first wobbly tooth!

It's not that I haven't wanted to write about these things. I've just had so many emotions to sort through in order to uncover the words and not nearly enough quiet/alone/alert time to process them effectively. So please forgive my absence over the past few weeks. I hope to get back to more regular posting again now.