Wednesday, February 14, 2018

sad expectant waiting

As I pack up boxes and the shelves become empty, I am faced with unsettled feelings. In part, it’s the disruption of our order, of the rhythm here we have come to know and to love. But worse than packing is the way my calendar empties. Pee Wee basketball: Delete. Car show and sock hop: Delete. Talent show, baseball, adult volleyball: delete, delete, delete.
Delete, and wait on God to fill with who-knows-what. Will I have a niche there? What will it look like? (Peace, daughter. Wait.)

What people don’t understand, I imagine, is that the very things that make it hard to leave St. Peter’s- those are the things that also comfort me and give me the strength to move forward trusting God’s provision.

When we came here, it was also quick and jolting to all of us, and yet, we knew it was the right thing to do. Many people didn’t understand, and the goodbyes were wrenching. We left behind so many things that we loved: the house, the location, the people!  And I had a niche there, too- with my mom friends, serving coffee amidst the chaos of my home, with groups of women who knew how to pray with each other and discuss the most important things together every single week.
It was a season of grief, but also of joyful surprise, as I watched God rearrange and provide in our lives over and again when we came here.  He gave us a new home to love, new friends, new adventures. He showed us that there are a million different ways to live the Christian life well here in the city, and we got to see new sides of His work in the many vocations around us.
Eventually, He even gave me a niche here: a totally different one than before, but one I have poured myself into with the strength God provides.  And I have been blessed in this pouring out: blessed to have so many dear ones (children and adults) who make saying goodbye so very hard.

I quote my husband’s words here:
“As a called servant of a congregation we are never sure what God's plans are for us. The temptation, after serving in the ministry for over ten years, is to insulate oneself and your family so that when ... God moves you elsewhere it won't hurt you or the family as bad as if you let people into your hearts and lives. With God's help, I have always tried to love and be loved by God's people freely and honestly, without putting up walls. You all have seeped into the very fabric of my being in the way that only family can.”
Yes, these dear people have seeped in, and that’s why leaving hurts so bad. But I don’t regret it. I am glad they are in my hearts, even though it means suffering now. I may have been tempted to shield myself better if I had known… and so, I am glad I didn’t know.  Because friends in Christ ARE friends for eternity, and though it pains us to part, we know we will be God’s timing.
As I worried to a friend about how people would take the news last week, she said, “Won’t anyone understand?”  I doubted, and said, “I am not sure they can understand. I think, the best I can hope for, is that some will still love us- even not understanding.” Oh, that is a lot to ask- more than I have to give in similar situations.  And yet God is working this grace in many people we love around here, and for that, we are so grateful.
The Sunday before we told everyone, Josh was sick in bed with kidney stones. I snuck over to church at 8am for communion.

Pastor Garber was preaching about sickness and God’s relief of it; I prayed for Josh, and for this man preaching who has become a dear brother to us.  My heart hurts; I try not to make eye contact with anyone. But pastor, he knows, and I know he is grieved.  He is broken; but I go up to communion, and there, he gives me Jesus. And I am broken, taking Jesus. Jesus broken for me.  And I think how this is church; broken people sharing Jesus even in their brokenness- this is what church does. It is good, Lord, to be here.

On my calendar, and here at St. Peter’s, there are empty spots: Delete, delete, delete. My chair where I used to greet people at the ECC in the morning: delete. The office where Pastor Cook always had an ear to lend: delete. The backyard at the parsonage next door with constant junk from a mess of kids: delete.
We are leaving holes as we leave, and we have no choice but to trust God to fill them.
The same God who is rearranging our lives is rearranging things at St. Peters. Dear brothers and sisters, join us in sad but expectant waiting!
Peace, children. Wait. Our God knows how to care for you.
Wait and see- He will take care of you!

"I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
   in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
   be strong, and let your heart take courage;
   wait for the Lord!" (Psalm 27)
Father may all your children keep on sharing the love you give, even with hearts broke open wide... Jesus, comfort your people, feed and uphold your church, and provide for all your children both near and far, until that day when you call us all home to be together with you in eternity.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

these are the days of upheaval...

These are the days of big feelings.

That feeling when you realize it's all gift, and sometimes He takes gifts back, or exchanges them for others;

That feeling when you realize (again) that you have control over nothing, nothing that truly matters;

That feeling when your heart bursts with both grief and excitement, and they both just keep getting stronger;

That feeling when you unsettle the world of the children, and some shoot off fireworks of questions with excitement, while others curl up on the ground in a ball of sadness and fear;

That feeling when you trust and pray and commend yourself to God and you still just can't fall asleep;

That feeling when you realize your future is only as steadfast as the love of the Father for His children.

That feeling when God makes it clear: it’s time to move.

I walk in the kitchen; the lilly has bloomed. “It figures,” I think. The flower blooms right before we have to leave. Just like Seth’s friend -- the sixth grader who has never once spoken a word to his classmates (save one) his entire time at our school, last week he participated in the all school spelling bee! And his lips were unloosed and he spoke to Seth and to everyone, and we all got to taste a bit of the miracle that comes after years of loving loving-patience.  
We were blessed to see the first bloom… but we do not get to see the full coming of spring.
I am sad about the flower. I’ll have to give it to somebody. I wonder if the raspberries I planted will feed anybody but the birds. And the lilac bushes! It grieves me to leave them.
There are goodbye notes to write. I consider writing, “I feel like if we had more time together we would have been really good friends...”  But instead I try to be encouraging and thankful for the gifts that God did give.

“He was made for this.” this thought surfaced sometimes against my will as we deliberated. I think I knew it from the begining, but it took longer to accept it.  People prayed for us as we went down to Kentucky to check things out. “Are we praying you stay?” somebody asked me. “Just pray for clarity.” “Did God make it clear last time?” someone else asked. “Yes he did.” I admitted that even as I doubted He would in this case. The unsettled waiting is so hard.
We drive down, deliberating all the way. The details make my head spin- things are moving too quickly.
The land begins to change. I’m not used to all these mountains. (“Hills,” he says. “They get much bigger.”)  I'm used to living where it's flat. When it's flat you can see where you are, you can get your bearings more easily. I find myself turned around, queasy, and always wondering what’s down that winding path.
There will be no steamrolling over nature here.
Here, I remember I am a creature, and my place in tis world is small. What else can you do on a winding Kentucky road but consent to descend and ascend as the path unfolds?

And somehow, along the way, God works that consent in my heart.   I should have known He would
He was made for this. God is making the way plain. Alright Lord, alright. I consent.
The truth of it is, I’m sad to go. I’m grieved to watch everything that makes up my “normal” be taken away by the hand of God- again! Didn’t we just do this!  Why don’t we get to have roots like so many other people do?  But we dont get to claim people forever, or places, or niches. None of us do. This seems to be a loud and constant lesson of our lives.
And yet, it helps that we have done this before. Because I know this God who takes things away a little better this time.  He takes, but He gives courage. He takes, but gives strength and clarity. He takes, but gives friends to comfort in grief and remind us of HIs goodness and promises.
And though I can’t see it now, I know that even as He is taking away from our lives with His right hand, He is also preparing good things for us with His left.

Our future is only as stable as the steadfast love of the Father for His children.
Steadily unsteady, we move ahead.

Pastor Cook’s last Sunday will be Feb 25, and then we will move to Louisville, KY so that he can finish his PHD in Christian Preaching.

Your prayers for us during this transition are much appreciated.

Please also pray for our St. Peter’s church family who, much against their will, are riding this rollercoaster with us.  May God provide abundantly in our absence for His dear people here, and surround them with reminders of His faithfulness.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

these days (4)

These are the days...
Image may contain: dog, fire and indoor
Of dogs sleeping by the fireplace like furry kindred spirits, exhausted from the noise and barking of little boys.

Of hosting my millionth sleepover, but it’s the little ones very first, and I get to rock their worlds with homemade nachos and cheese and milkshakes.

Of teenage girls giggling, sneaking hidden candy in the girls’ bedroom and talking about crushes while perfecting secret handshakes.

Of last minute deadlines (“I promise I’ll plan ahead next time”) and late-night Coke so the kid can finish those final pages; and “Mom can you help me with Algebra?” so I try but oh those wheels turn slowly when you haven’t used them in 20 years.  These are the days of little boys asking “How many steps do you have today?” and helping me meet my goal- sometimes, by dancing with me, or rollerblading, sometimes, by stealing my fitbit and running around the house taking turns until they have earned 25,000 steps or more!

These are the days of fighting over who gets to sit in front and “what can I feed them for second dinner?” and last minute birthday gifts for friends. These days the younger two will do extra chores for a gumball, but the older kids expect actual dollars, slurpees, or technology privileges. These days they go to bed when they get tired and if I’m too tired to tuck them in, they tuck me in instead and they remember to turn out the lights.  But they still ask me to kiss them goodnight and I do it because there’s a last time for everything and this might be it.

These are days of mom on repeat: Did you practice your piano and brush your teeth and did someone feed the dogs?  And can you bring me my phone to work because I forgot it again, or my oatmeal, or my charger? And they laugh because adulting is hard and even mom doesn’t have it figured out, but we work as a team and somehow we hobble along and everyone gets where they need to be. These days are peppered with fighting and fun, and these days end with prayers and forgiveness and grace and exhaustion.

These are the days of praying he can make it through one more meeting;  of trying to stay up until he gets home so he can have someone to lean on, and not always making it. These are the days of 5:15 am alarms and bleary-eyed family devotions and opening the ECC and trying to be cheerful before I’ve finished my first cup of coffee.  These are the days of scheduling family time for hospital visits and funerals; of being emptied all the way out and miraculously filled again by His Body broken and given for us like water in the desert.

These are the days of trying to keep a soft heart in a world that feels like concrete and cynicism and bitterness; of keeping my eyes peeled for hope and growth, and God asking us to trust even if we can’t see Him working.  These are the days of praying for a weary pastor-heart while thanking God that he can meet me for lunch and we still love talking about books we’re reading and Big Ideas.

These are the days of winter isolation and longing for connection; of gratitude that the internet can connect hearts of friends across distance.

These are the days of important conversations along the way, of pouring into their minds and praying they learn to think critically and guard against evil and falsehood. These are the days of discussing quotes and literature at the dinner table, and marvelling at the growth in their minds for about 2 seconds, and then someone farts or spills and even the oldest thinks farts are funny.

These are the days of blasting “Just Dance” in the living room; of loud piano, flute, and trombones blaring; of trying hard to find a quiet place to practice multiplication tables or spelling words; of wondering if it’s all too much for them, for me! When out of the blue somebody starts praying that we have another baby and you realize you’ve passed on a crazy affinity for loud messy big love.

These are the days of asking Siri “What does this food do for my body?” and trying to care about the answer.  These are the days when the scary flu virus is going around; daddy tells them at the dinner table how some even healthy kids have died from it; and the littlest one suddenly has a sore throat and a desperate need for a hug.

These are the days when we remember our times are in God’s hands, and when we pray with a little extra desperation “Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.”

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The battle is too big for you. Be still.

"The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still." Exodus 14:14
What does this mean?  Is this one we can apply to ourselves or only the specific biblical context situation?  Or maybe ourselves sometimes?

I got this question from a friend, and I jokingly replied, “I think I’m just going to be still and let God answer that question for me.”

Honestly, I would love the permission to use this one whenever I felt like it. Political conversation that makes me uncomfortable? Sorry, I’m too busy being still to engage.  Laundry needs to be done? Nope, I need to be still.  Kids screaming at each other?  I’ll let God sort it out while I read my Bible.

Alas, this Scripture is not meant to be a trump card to use in the battles we’d rather not fight.
It is never wise to pull one verse out of Scripture and examine it alone. So what’s the context?
Moses is leading the Israelites away from the Egyptians. All looks to be lost: their backs are up against the Red Sea, they are outnumbered, vulnerable, and they see no way out.

There have been battles that simply end at this point; sometimes, God does allow the enemy temporal victories, and the Christian is called to simply be slaughtered and yet still trust.  Sometimes, we must actively fight evil to stop its spread, and God is pleased with those who defend the weak.  (Thank you, veterans, police officers, brave souls of all kinds who God uses to stem the flood of evil in this place).

But in this case, God did something different.  God brought His people to the end of themselves: to that place where it was obvious there was NO hope in salvation coming from their own two hands.  And then, God did a miracle. He intervened when it was impossible, and He rescued His people.

Surely there was a moment when that word of hope from Moses seemed too incredible to believe. Those are nice sounding words Moses, but do you see their chariots? Look how sharp are the swords! Do you see the rage in the eyes of our enemies? They will delight in tearing us apart! They are coming, and we are defenseless!

And then, the miracle. God parted the seas, and they walked through on dry ground.

Feet stepping on dry ground where water had been only moments before... can you imagine the wonder they felt? The amazement and fear, the utter certainty that this rescue was NOT of their own doing but a work of the God of the universe!

And after God did this thing, His people rejoiced and sang. Hear the words of Moses:
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
   the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
   and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
   my father's God, and I will exalt him.” (Exodus 15)

Salvation at the hand of God- truly this is a marvelous thing! And the glory of God is brighter in our eyes  when we have seen our own helplessness, when we have despaired of creating safety with our own two hands. This miraculous rescue of God’s people from the Egyptians is meant to give us cause for rejoicing and trust as well, because it is a foreshadowing of the same work that God is doing for us today.

Be still. The battle is too big for you. The Lord will fight for you in the most important battle you wage: the battle with sin, death, and the devil.  Have you tried fighting this battle on your own? Have you seen the futility of your own efforts? Despair of your resources and look to Jesus! Without the miraculous intervention of our God, we would be surrounded and overcome; slaughtered with glee by our enemies.   But our God does not leave us in this place.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col 1:13)

He has won for us the biggest and most impossible battle in His death and resurrection.   We are in-between times: we hear the word of promise and victory, and yet we see the glint of the sword, we feel the gunshot wounds from the enemy.   We come up against our own powerlessness and we have reason to fear.   But even today, in the fight against the evil our God invites us to be still.

Stillness is not necessarily inactivity. The Israelites had to walk across the dry ground!  But the spirit with which they walked must have been so different than the spirit with which they sharpened their own swords in fearful defiance of the enemy they still hoped to defeat.  They no longer cried out in terror to Moses, but they walked forward in wonder and in trust, confident in the mighty hand of God, strong to save.

It’s is the word of God’s miraculous hand that gives us stillness of heart, even as the battle still rages.  Step forward, hold fast to His Word, and Let God make your heart still.

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Tim 4:18)

Rejoice with Zecharaiah:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
   for he has visited and redeemed his people... to grant us
 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
   in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
   for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
   in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
   whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
   to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Monday, January 15, 2018

Why we love Wittenberg Academy

We have entered into a new era: we now have a daughter in High School!  And for us, high school is happening in an unconventional way. We are not bussing her to the Lutheran school up north, nor are we sending her to the nice public school down the road. Instead, she is enrolled in Wittenberg Academy, a classical online Lutheran High School. Yes, this is weird, and we have received plenty of odd looks, criticism, and questions about this decision.  We agonized before we decided, and then we stepped forward, and now, here we are- and it is a tremendous blessing to be here. For those of you who are wondering what this is like, I thought I’d give a little glimpse. Please note, I am not implying this is the right decision for everyone!  I am just sharing the good things we have discovered along this path.

Time management
She is responsible for managing her time, meeting deadlines, and spreading out her work in a way that is productive and yet does not make her crazy.  She has learned that she works better with music than with silence, that she likes to get things done in the morning, and that taking breaks helps her organize her thoughts.

She has time!
My teenager has time to breathe and to be a kid! She has time to craft, to play with her siblings, to read just for fun, to try out new recipes for fudge and cookies. We go for walks in the afternoon, we play volleyball, 

Lorraine wants to be a teacher, so she helps out at the preschool and school quite often as a volunteer.  She also babysits and tutors.  She is part of the adult handbell choir and she plays pick-up volleyball weekly.

In November, Lorraine went to Florida with her grandparents to work with Samaritan’s Purse for hurricane relief. She’s going to Texas next month for the same reason.  Her flexible schedule gives her the freedom to do amazing things like this- you can read about it here!

*The Curriculum*
She’s taking logic, and she’s pointing out fallacies on the news and in conversations all the time now. She learned a whole year’s worth of geometry in 12 weeks! She is now delving deeply into Algebra.  And then there’s the constant required class: Paideia. Webster’s defines this as the “training of the physical and mental faculties in such a way as to produce a broad enlightened mature outlook harmoniously combined with maximum cultural development.”  That’s pretty heavy stuff, and yet my daughter will wake up and say “YES! It’s Paideia day!” with a little dance because she loves this live class so much. She’s reading the Iliad and Scripture and Thucydides and Herodotus and wonderful primary sources, and it makes me wish I could go back to school and do it all with her.
It wasn’t until I went to college that I learned to love learning for the right reasons: not to receive a shiny collection of As and gold stars, but to know and appreciate what is good and true and beautiful in the world. This pursuit is the mission of this high school, and her teachers encourage her in this direction. 

Are there down sides?
Lorraine says: No snow days! (She had to “go to school” and I had to go work last friday when everyone else stayed home and enjoyed a day off!)  Also, “I don’t get to see my friends in person every single day. But I don’t feel like I am missing out on a social life- I have friends here.”

I could also make a list of things we are happy to be missing that are part of the other choices, like commuting and “teenage culture” and more, but I’ll stick to the positive today.  A final word from my mommy-heart: it is almost surreal to me, to have afternoons with JUST my big kid most days.  We get to shop together, to go on walks and talk about things we’re reading and plans for the future. I love being able to stay close to her as she blooms in this season of her life!  

If you’d like more info, visit and feel free to talk to me or Lorraine about it any time!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Quempas echo

Christmas eve, and the lights in church are low. The saints hold candles and sing of Jesus, they circle the church, singing from all corners, echoing praise back and forth as if from every corner of the world.

I snuggle a sleepy little saint while they walk by with the candles and their Quempas Carol.

The song itself is light in our darkness, but it’s not so bright that it wakes the sleeper. Not yet.
God’s own Son is born a child, is born a child;
God the Father is reconciled, is reconciled.

Each saint who goes by, each familiar face made even more lovely by soft candlelight, inspires affection, gratitude, prayer in me. I join their song, grateful that the average pew sitter is invited in as part of the echo. I envisage God’s great gathering of us all; how our lights will shine then; how my own voice will be more lovely, more confident.

But when he walks by there is more affection, more hope, more aching prayer.
For he’s mine, my husband, him whom I have loved in this life.  
It is with a mix of deep affection and selfish possessiveness that I use the word “mine:” God isn’t finished with me yet.  He is pastor, he is daddy, he is many things to many people, but at the end of this day, he is mine.

He walks by in his robe with the candle, singing with the saints as we are all  being gathered
The sheep are safe, He will indeed take care of them.

Safe. The sheep are safe. How his shepherd heart must ache for that day when all God’s sheep are finally safe and gathered in. I ache for it with him.

I try to imagine it:
He’s part of the heavenly choir, and I see him walk by singing sanctified praise, but with the voice I know, the smile that I have loved. There is more joy in his smile.
He will not be mine, then, not exclusively to possess as husband.
With others I will love him, see him, and rejoice in what God has done.

Will I still be allowed to speak of him with the “mine” of affection?
Will there be an amused “I told you so” in his glance, or in mine?
Will there be a silent mutual apology for not loving better? If there is, surely there will be mutual grace to consume all regret or pain, to swallow it all up in forgiveness.
Will we share a glance that nobody else could possibly understand, rich with memories and tearful nights and joys and fears we shared in this life, amazed to see how God has redeemed every bit of it all?

“Confirm for us the work of our hands:” we have prayed  this many times.  Will we someday see God’s answer?  It will all be done by His hand, we will see clearly then.
And yet He has used our hands to “help,”
Used pastor’s words to convict, comfort, heal, uphold
And mine too, in my own way, though all of the grace and the beauty were borrowed.
Will we get to trace the paths of His Words on our lips, see how God took our imperfect efforts and (miraculously!) watered and grew and reaped a rich harvest?

I have shared his burdens in this life; will I get to be with him to see those burdens made beautiful?
These saints we walk with and their griefs, will we see the finished artwork when they are finally healed?

We cannot picture, cannot fathom what is to come. So for now, light candles together, we join in song, and we receive glimpses of hope from our God. And we wait until the new day dawns.

Image may contain: 1 person, sleeping, sitting, baby and indoorThe sleeping saint in the pew stirs under his coat-blanket.  I try to coax him into holding a candle and joining the song but he is too weary. It’s ok, son, we will sing for you, for now.

Rejoice in his goodwill; The Savior came in meekness
For you, for you, to bear your flesh in weakness.
God’s own Son is born a child, is born a child;
God the Father is reconciled, is reconciled.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas snapshots 2017

Four services in 24 hours: a marathon, and we attended every one. Solidarity with pastor-dad, Praise to the Lord, Joy to the World, and so forth.  I gather an amalgam of Christmas moments, shared in no particular order:

Everyone knows where their shoes are this year. It’s a miracle, made possible in part by my willingness to overlook the fact that Peter’s are slightly too big. If his brother doesn’t care, I don’t care; we’ll call it a win.

Snow falls, and the cold rush as we leave makes us all excited and invigorated. They squeal; we put our faces up to receive its cold shower. I quote a song we know, “Isn’t it love? This rain that falls down on the sinners and the saints!” but the snow is grainy and cold; it doesn’t feel as pretty as it looks.  Lorraine laughs as I sputter and wipe the “love” off my cold face. The walk to church is quick and cold.

Lorraine looks gorgeous in her gold dress; she takes my breath away. I’ve heard some moms feel like their teenage daughters have stolen their beauty, but I'm not one because I never had that kind of beauty in the first place. Hers is a beauty all her own and I just smile as I watch it shine.  She is wearing my high heels- the ones I am not graceful enough to wear.  She walks into church, a tall, elegant, a lovely young woman, but her heel slips, ankle twists, and she barely catches herself. Her smile says, “I meant to do that” and we both giggle like crazy in the front pew. “Did you see that banana peel someone left there mom? How rude!”  Her light heart is gorgeous, too.

Sitting next to me, Marcus keeps forgetting to listen and follow along. I nudge him, point to the hymnal, direct my spoken responses to his ears so as to verbally pull him along with me into the story God is writing in us. He steals my pen and decorates his thumbs. “Mom, I’m ready for the next thumb war, now, look they have faces!” as if I’ll be proud. I’m not, but I’m not mad either.

Sitting by Aggie is at Christmas is like sitting by Elf. After communion she has so much to say; I hide in kneeling prayer as long as I can, but I can’t hide forever; so she loud-whispers to me about the gifts she will give and her band schedule and straightening her hair and then she gasps “oooh this hymn is my favorite!” Her song is strong and sincere, and she is focused, until it ends and her stories begin again. Finally I say, “Can you please stop taking for a bit honey?” She does, but the organ plays a tune she knows and she bobs her head and taps her foot, and I am amazed that she can make even silent movement so loud and joyful.

Pictures by the Christmas tree: Peter farts and everyone makes a huge deal about it. And Seth doesn’t want to be in the picture; I use my mom voice and when that doesn’t work I threaten to get dad involved.  “We can do this now or we can do this later but you’re gonna do this.” He does begrudgingly, and as soon as I say “now, a silly one!” he runs. Later, I follow him with the camera and take action shots to make up for it.

We have a crazy idea this year: Let’s let (make?) the kids stay up until late church: 11pm. Dad is sure they can do it. Of course, this same Dad also takes a nap a 8:30. He has to preach, after all.  Home Alone and Christmas snacks sustain them for a time.  I drink tea and record moments.  Come, Emmanuel.

It’s hard to stay awake. Behold! God has sent buckets of snow from heaven! Eldon and I go for a night walk; we make the first tracks, running tracks, laughing at the way the wind has made just one side of our faces cold. I promise to snuggle him later, and I do: we keep each other warm for all of the late service. The tree, the candlelight, the beauty of the late service is overpowering. But Peter is asleep before the opening hymn. Seth and Marcus stare sleepily ahead. Aggie joins the quempas carol and shines bright.  Lorraine plays handbells, and experiences wonderful moments of holy goosebumps. Heart-overflowing tears are my Christmas gift; I blink long and grateful.

Christmas morning:
Daddy wakes first and makes coffee: the best in the world, oh how he cares for me!  A few gifts, excitement, arguing, and breakfast. And the snow is still falling, just like grace: it’s time for another service.

Another service: I am grumpy about the clutter closing in at home, but I don’t want to be; annoyed the the wiggly boy next to me distracts me from the sermon, but pastor tells of  a welcoming God, welcoming even me. Pete lifts my arm to snuggle under-- my arm rebels in annoyance-- then gives in and tries to be welcoming like my God. My imitation is weak, but the boy rests his head on my lap and finds rest there.  Big sister’s lap is welcoming to another little boy; the sight softens my heart further.

Pete knows how to follow along in the bulletin now; he argues with me when dad forgets to tell everyone to stand. I whisper, “He’s the pastor, he can overrule what’s in the bulletin.”  He finds the songs in the hymnal for us and sings along; we both sing the wrong verse and he giggles. He makes sure I’m folding my hands when it’s time to pray.  He who has been managed by so many in his life is now managing me.

Seth has Official Business to do: he runs the sound board and does well. He’s looking quite handsome in his gray suit.  I hemmed it for him, as his dad suggested-- I almost didn’t though. I recall Josh’s input on the right way to hem, Seth’s anxiety that I would do it wrong, so many suggestions from those two chiefs, and me finally snapping, “Do you two want to do it yourselves?”  And I felt like my own mom in that moment; today it makes me laugh.

And the whole thing is covered in grace, all the memories and the moments, just like the junk in our backyard is covered with pretty white snow. I ponder these things in my heart.

Oh Come, Emmanuel, we sing, and we live His coming.  His songs on our lips when we wake, His Words in our ears on our way, His peace in our hearts as we sleep.  His grace that binds us up again after tempers are lost, that covers over the greed and the distraction of the season; His Son that dwells with us here, now. HIs light that shines and gathers us to Him along with all people. Come, Lord Jesus.

Merry Christmas.

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