Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas memory

Embracing the chaos(or at least, trying to.)

Christmas morning 2012

He sat behind his pile of presents, wrapping paper stuck to one foot. 
There were no more gifts to open.  He smiled as he chewed a chocolate santa.

The little boy sighed and said, “I guess a lot of people really just love us.”

Yes, son, yes.

That is what I want you to learn and to know deep down in your little souls, that you are loved.
That is why we do the extra things at Christmas. 

That’s why I made the monkey bread late last night so we could have it for breakfast this morning.   
That’s why our family travels to see us, or we travel to see them.

We pour on the candy, the hot cocoa, the soft robes and the toy helicopters.
We light the incense, and we overflow with song.
We dress up for church, we perform and we smile and we hug.
We bake and we shop and we create.

We do it so you will know
You are loved, dear children.

May each moment, each gift, serve only to underline and emphasize that joyful, gospel Word of God for you.

A Savior has been born for you.
 You are loved.

Monday, December 21, 2015

To our White Creek family, at Christmas

To our dear brothers and sisters in Christ, at White Creek, from whom we are separated for the work of the Lord, for this little while.  Grace, mercy and peace be unto you, in the name of Jesus.

Here we are in the big city, where life is so very different, but our God is the same. We live on a six-lane road, and we hear sirens all the time. We miss our quiet little home in Indiana. Marcus even insists that the country smells better: he much prefers the scent of a dairy farm to the mixed aromas of fast food and exhaust fumes. Yet, we are learning that there are a million ways to live faithfully as a Christian, a million different ways God’s grace can pour out of His church.  There is a new kind of beauty to this life, and yet because Jesus is in the midst of it, it is also a familiar beauty.

The children are doing well.  We have often thanked God for their White Creek teachers and the way they poured themselves out to teach and love our children for the years we were there.  Their works were not in vain, and we rejoice to see the fruits of their labor in them as they adjust to their new school.

Pastor is energized by the new challenges here, and simultaneously overwhelmed to his knees, which is a good place for a pastor to be.

I (Emily) am slowly finding my niche. With all six children in school, five days a week, and no sweet Vandercars to babysit, I experienced a season of quiet grief.  God is gently giving me rest, along with new work for a new season. I am working part-time at the church’s preschool and I love it. I am beginning a new group for moms, and hope to foster the kind of support and community among mothers as I experienced in White Creek.

When you pray for us, please pray that God would keep our hearts open to new people and our hands eager to do the new jobs that He sends. Pray that He would give the children good friends, and keep them safe in His care.  Pray also that pastor may be upheld for his enormous task here, and that he would be a faithful and competent steward of God’s Word in this place.

We ache for you often, dear church family. We thank God for our time in your care, and the love that you showed us and our children. We pray for God’s care for each one of you, and for your beautiful church and school.  You are so blessed in that place, and we pray God will continue to provide you with faithful teachers, and also a new pastor, that you may continue to work together in the Lord, faithful to His Word, and loving one another as we have seen you do so well.

God's richest blessings to you this Christmas and always,
With much love,
The Cook family

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:10-11)

Monday, December 14, 2015

singing, in the meantime

A ten month old is playing happily on the floor, and mom gets up to get a cup of coffee. The boy explodes. Terror! Tears! Panic! How could mama just leave him like that?

Separation anxiety. I remember those days.
I remember going to the bathroom, and even while sitting there, I’d be jabbering away to the little guy, just so he could keep hearing my voice, reassuring him I was still nearby.

Separation can be tough.

Sunday, as I sat in the pew, I sang quietly like I always do. I like to listen to others sing, the ones with the gift for it. The words of grace surrounded me, sung by God’s people, and I was blessed. But I did not recognize the voices. And I began to ache.

I miss the voices I know so well. I miss the way Auntie would sing, usually with a child of mine on her lap, always knowing the hymns better than I do. And her voice, every time it was heard in my home, would cause the children to come running to the door, yelling “Aunt Mary Anne!” at the top of their voices.
I miss the voices withe heavy southern accents. I miss the little ones who would come running to me smiling “Em-WY!” and their arms around my neck. I miss the one who would laugh too loudly during sermons or at the babies playing, with the squeak in her giggle, with the joy that was fresh air to all of us. I miss the voices that cheered with me at games, when we all knew the words, where our daughters had been together for years. I miss having a houseful of children I’ve known since their birth, most of them Baptized by my husband, who I’ve watched learn to crawl and walk and praise and read and fold their hands in prayer.
I miss the smell of the cows and the roar of the combines. I miss the walks to the pond, and I miss the little hands I held while we hunted for frogs and gathered “wal-marts.” (walnuts.)
My favorite elderly people from Indiana called me on my birthday. They sang “Happy Birthday” on my voicemail. Oh, how wonderful it was to hear their sweet voices. As I listened to Don’s song and encouragement on my message, I closed my eyes so I could soak up his voice.

There is something about the voice of a loved one; the way it reawakens that part of your heart that has loved them always.

Separation can be tough.

“Eternal life is a gift we have begun to enjoy now,” pastor reminds us. If we were in a video game, we’d have “unlimited lives.” I remember the freedom of unlimited lives, playing my Nintendo. Having unlimited lives freed me to take risks, to be bold, knowing nothing could really hurt me, nothing could cause a true “game over.”

We have unlimited lives. Alive in Christ for all time, we raise our deathless voices in song. We aren’t always singing together these days, and we ache for the missing ones. Our choirs are too small, and the holes loom large. But that is only today, only for a little while longer.

Because of the gift of God in Christ, we can sing even in our separation. Whether we are separated by distance or by death itself, in God, all distances are small. We are like that baby, whose mama has only gone to the other room for a moment. We are like children, missing grandma, but she’s really only taking a little nap. It will not always be this way.

Shout with joy oh deathless voices,
child of God lift up your head!

Deathless voices: those voices I miss, those voices and songs and stories are truly deathless, even now. I will indeed hear those voices again. Our parting seems epic, the separation seems enormous, but from the perspective of eternity we are really just in the ohter room, really just around the corner, waiting for grandma to finish the turkey, and call us to the great banquet where we will sit together and join in those hymns to our God once again and for all eternity.

Life eternal! heav'n rejoices; 
Jesus lives, who once was dead.
Shout with joy, O deathless voices!
Child of God, lift up your head!
Life eternal! O what wonders
crowd on faith; what joy unknown,
when, amidst earth's closing thunders,
saints shall stand before the throne! 

(Sing with all the saints in glory, LSB 671)

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Homesickness is a two-faced phenomenon, a Janus emotion. It looks two ways at once. When you are in the tropics, you long for the smell of chestnuts roasting on an open fire and the sound of carolers in the snow. When you are home, you miss the blood-red flowers of the hibiscus, the smooth-spun rhythms of a steel drum band, and the pungent whiff of boiling fish from a hut on the beach.
We forget that both types of homesickness are an echo of our soul-deep longing for our real and enduring home: We are citizens of Heaven, and nothing short of that, nothing here -- tropical or temperate -- is a suitable or satisfying substitute.
So be patient. We are going home. We shall arrive on time.
--- Dr. Bauman, Hillsdale College professor

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