Candlelight

advent-past

We’ve been lighting candles every December since the boys were the size of baby Jack. Of course this little cousin with his white blond hair and wide twinkly eyes is really not a baby anymore. He’s already two years old with another sibling on the way. Just about the age Nils must have been at the time of my favorite Advent photo shoot back in the day. I can almost feel those pudgy little fingers and kissable cheeks just remembering.

Every year since then we’ve been lighting candles each Sunday from the end of November until Christmas Eve. We’d go youngest to oldest as soon as each boy was brave enough to hold the match – which is why yesterday Nils was the one making sure we got it right when we lit the first candle.

It was my friend Barb from church who inspired me to expand our Advent table this year. I think I’ll invite some friends to join us. I’d told Kyle of my plans a week or so before. It seemed like a fun idea at the time. Each Sunday we could extend the invitation to another family for dessert and candle-lighting. But then the first Advent weekend approached right on the heels of Thanksgiving, and every day was a party straight through Saturday night. And Sunday came and the boys all had homework. Group projects, and our house just blocks from school is always the best location.

So there we were circling up for our Advent kickoff with the DeMars family and us and a handful of extra teens, all drawn by the aroma of hot cider and cherry-crisp, willing to listen to a Bible reading if it meant a plate of warm dessert. And I’d already been fretting all week about how to best share my favorite tradition without making it awkward, and I’m telling you right now this particular gathering had ALL the makings of awkward. Which is why later when Nils commented on how it turned out so much better than he’d expected – I was in full agreement. 

Advent means coming, I explained just before Miranda read out loud from Isaiah in front of all of those boys, and little Lily carefully lit the first candle. We remember Christmas and Jesus’ first coming, and we remember, too, that He’s coming again.  

It hits me different this year. We’re waiting for Jesus to come again.

I think back to a time last summer, driving home from soccer. There was rain in the distance and the sun setting on clouds; the sky was a wonder and it made me think of His coming. And again on a road trip, just Kyle and me, coming back from Colorado. We drove through a downpour, short but intense, and the whole time this song was playing right there in our car. Even so come, Lord Jesus come. The same song played just a few days later as I drove to church for a funeral. And each time I felt this ache of longing. Lord Jesus come. 

These days are such a mix of happy and broken, and we’re a little bit fragile. This world could use some fixing, and I know my own longing for Jesus is found in this.

I had a houseful of family on Saturday for a post-Thanksgiving gathering – my sister and two brothers and all of our kids, plus Grandma and Grandpa. It had been a whole year since I’d seen Micah’s family – baby Jack and his two sweet sisters, and a brother who’s grown into a little man. I pulled out buckets of toys from when my own boys were little, farm animals and tractors, and knights riding horses. The tweens played pool, and later all of us gathered by a candle-lit fireplace for the biggest-ever round of the Name Game. But even here with so much sweetness and laughter we could feel the ache. One brother, missing. Broken and lost. Needing Jesus.

This is the truth of where Advent meets us. The sweet longing of children waiting for Christmas, and grown-ups who long for what’s still to come. Nothing missing, nothing broken. Exactly three years ago I heard those words describing shalom in an Advent message and it changed our lives. We’ve come a long way since then.

This morning I sat at my window by lamplight listening to thunder and rain more like summer than Christmas, my Advent reading again from Isaiah.* Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…” And I think of a song.

All of creation
All of the earth
Make straight a highway
A path for the Lord
Jesus is coming soon…

*Isaiah 35:3-4

Wind

blustery-porch-2

There’s no sun shining through my east facing bedroom window this morning. Just the sound of thunder and a good stiff wind, rain starting and the promise of snow in the forecast. I guess our fairytale fall is just about over. I have to admit, even though I’ve savored every single 60-degree day, I’m somewhat ready. Those new birthday boots are meant for winter and there are sweaters to wear; and earlier this week I jumped the gun and decked my porch with winter greenery. Before Thanksgiving, which has always been against my rules, but this year it just seemed foolish NOT to take advantage of warm temps for outdoor work, especially with that weather app giving us fair warning. And this morning there’s no sun on my porch, but the hanging baskets are almost as good.

My favorite way to write is to just show up and see what happens, and that’s today. It gives God a chance to surprise me. His Spirit inspiring my random thinking and making sense of this section of story. Earlier this week I told my friend Sean I had a plan. We were in a meeting at church and he said something about joy and groaning – and I said, that’s what I’ve been planning to write about. But now I don’t know. We’ll see how this one unfolds.

Sean’s getting used to my random thoughts. We work together and he’s been trying for some time to figure it out. Are we on the same page or not? Lately we’ve been learning together about how the Spirit can be leading two people in the same direction, but the direction of the Wind can keep us guessing.

I took Monday morning off this week. I’d worked extra hours over the weekend and was in the mood to do my hair. I usually walk in to Fantastic Sams and hope for my favorite stylist. This time I called ahead asking for Bihn, but her hours and mine weren’t going to line up, so I’d have to take a risk on whoever was working. And before I even left home the Spirit started His prompting, and I already knew my morning would be about something more than hair. So I started praying right away. Help me pay attention. (Truth be told, the reason I need so much of the Spirit is I’m easily distracted and can completely miss what should be obvious.)

Sure enough. The gal that’s working is fairly new, and I can tell she’s a little nervous as I explain what I need. I try not to think about hair, and press in hard to the Sprit’s leading. It’s pretty easy. After a few minutes her story just flows, and she’s telling me about adoption and a broken life and how in spite of it all somehow she’s always longed for good. It takes her three hours to do my hair and by the time we’re finished our stories and our hearts have been knit together. She tells me she’d like to visit my church and I pray again for just the right something. And then it’s right there in my purse. Last weekend’s bulletin – the one from Orphan Sunday. And it’s there in writing, how much this church loves the broken, and I just shake my head and marvel at God.

It’s been a quite a week. Joy and groaning. Summer and winter. Daily surprises, even today.

The school nurse called just as I finished my story about hair. But that wasn’t the surprise. Jimmy left home this morning under the weather, fighting a cold, so when I heard it was him in the nurse’s office I nodded, knowing. But no. She tells me it’s not the cold but a lip swollen huge from an allergic reaction. A few minutes later with Jimmy in tow we’re calling the clinic to tell them what’s up. The boy hates doctors and needles and he’s torn between fear of going and fear of not. But he’s being brave and he goes willing with Dad while I head to another appointment. (Hours later we have the diagnosis. He’s allergic to something. You don’t say.)

The wind’s been blowing steady around here these days, and maybe it’s Jimmy feeling it most. It’s the Wind of the Spirit, and this boy’s soul is filling right up. I can see him blooming, just like those flowers I finally pulled from their baskets on my porch this week. Last night the two of us sat looking at pictures, comparing last year to this. And you could see it right there in Jimmy’s photos, the story in his eyes. Enough to be shocking. Transformation from sadness to healing. Joy.

And I’m awed as I realize this Wind has got us right where He wants us in this wild unpredictable story.

Birthday Girl(s)

maple-me

(Birthday post by guest blogger Kyle)

It was 1991, the Twins had just won the World Series in the most epic of fashion with a thrilling game 7 victory. Jack Morris pitched inning after inning and Gene Larkin walked it off with a 10th inning pinch hit RBI single. Huddled together in our little Lindenhurst, IL apartment, we were glued to our 13 inch TV watching every pitch. Together, just the two of us and a baseball game, a harbinger of things to come. Soon after came Sonya’s birthday and one of the worst decisions of my life…Kirby!

Kirby was Sonya’s birthday present, a beagle pup named after World Series hero Kirby Puckett. I was young and not too bright, the movie Regarding Henry fresh in mind, and Henry’s cute beagle tugging on Sonya’s heart. Doing no research (Al Gore was still working on the internet), I somehow found a litter of beagle pups in southern Illinois and we went on a birthday drive to pick out Kirby. We brought her home to our third floor apartment just before winter.

It was the gift that kept on giving. There was the all night howling and the countless trips down and up the stairs at all hours. There were accidents on the floor, the landlord demanding a double deposit, ruined carpet and the loss of the deposit. We moved and Kirby dug a hole in the new carpet, and our mattress! Kirby didn’t sit, didn’t come and definitely did not stay. She pooped where she wanted, went where she wanted and I think had a secret vendetta to drive me nuts. Mercifully, Grant came along and we found a new home for Kirby. Our need for a dog completely and fully satisfied forever!

But alas. Twenty-four years and five boys later, and we couldn’t say no forever. Last year at just about this time we were looking for a perfect family Christmas gift, and an adorable Golden-Doodle stole our hearts and added to the chaos that is our lives.

So today we celebrate two birthdays; both Sonya and Maple born on Veteran’s day. Maple a veteran of one year of life and Sonya significantly more experienced. So far Maple has surpassed Kirby in every way…maybe we have learned a few things over the years. And so far, Sonya has surpassed them all. Like it says in Proverbs 31 “A wife of noble character who can find? … but you surpass them all.” Maybe it’s an overused sentiment by husbands, but give me a break, I’m a rooky blogger. And since I’m being cliché, how about “you complete me,” or “stronger together.” All true!

In my own words, Sonya you inspire me, you bring warmth and peace to our home, you are gentle and kind, patient and wise, you love me more than I deserve and you bubble over with a love for the Lord that is contagious. You are my best friend and most faithful companion. You are beautiful in every way and you are my most treasured gift from God.

These past couple of years have been perhaps the richest time of our marriage as we have truly learned to walk through the uncertainty of life together with our God. We have prayed more, talked more, cried more and loved more. We have learned to trust Him and lean on His faithfulness. Life has been far from easy, but we have become stronger together, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I love you and can’t wait to live out the rest of our adventure together!

Party!

party

We had a party at dinner last night. I’d been wanting to do it all week, mentally planning, waiting for a night without sports and church. So finally yesterday I seized the free evening and stopped by the store on my way home from work to pick up a few extras. Sparkling cider. Salmon. Mini creampuffs. Balloons.

The boys were stumped – and nervous. Mom, what are you doing? They’re not too keen on surprises. And this didn’t make sense. Nils’ birthday is past. Mine still a week out. No other significant dates on the radar. They threw out some guesses while Kyle whipped up his maple glaze for the fish. Is somebody pregnant? They suggested both me and Kiana. (NO.) A raise at work, or a lottery win. Have we ever even bought a ticket? (No again.) I think I know. This from Nils, but he won’t say what.

I giggled as I pulled out tablecloth and goblets. This is fun. I should do it more often.

REWIND.

Tuesday morning I’m having my quiet time, reading a Psalm. O magnify the LORD with me… O taste and see that the LORD is good…*  

Later that same morning I’m at church with staff. We’re sharing stories about God’s faithful provision in times of trials, and I share my own. And it hits me again like it has so often in our current season. God has been GOOD to our family! Looking back and remembering how hard it was and how sweet it is now, and I feel like having a party.

And then we sing this song and it seals the deal. I’m overwhelmed. Never Once Have We Ever Walked Alone. I stand there at church circled up with coworkers and friends, singing the exact song that anchored my heart and Kyle’s in our darkest days.

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us…

 And this is happening. For sure. Balloons and all.

I tell the kids over dinner, after I read the Psalm out loud. God is GOOD, and this family is good, and I just feel like having a party. Taste and see…

 So we devour our salmon and eat too many creampuffs and then boys suck helium out of all the balloons and we’re silly and happy and we all know it’s true.

You are faithful, God, You are faithful.

 AND GOOD.

*Psalm 34:3 & 8