Tag Archives: Holidays

What does the silver fox say…about Lent?

When I was 17, I told a classmate he had a smudge on his forehead and tried to wipe it off for him.  It was Ash Wednesday. Somehow I had made it 17 years without ever having heard about Ash Wednesday or Lent.

When I got to Westmont the next year, all my friends were “giving things up for Lent” and I remember thinking, “What the what? Isn’t this a Catholic tradition? Are all my friends secretly Catholic?”

They gave up sweets or meats,  hot showers or their beds.  One friend even gave up mirrors.  I was still confused about this whole season of sacrifice so I refused to jump on the bandwagon when I was in college.  Since then, it seems that the practice of Lent has become much more widespread.  Maybe it’s always been popular and I’m just terribly unobservant, but in the past few years most of the people in my circle have become Lent participants.  Perhaps we can thank social media for this as more and more people post about things they are giving up. (though ironically many people are giving up social media)

Whatever the reason, today everyone seems to be talking about Lent.  And today I have ashes on my forehead for the first time.

As my colleague smeared the ashes and prayed over me, I thought, “Wow, why did Christians ever stop this tradition?”  Why did we stop a ritual in which we are forced to remember our mortality- to number our days and live differently because of it.  A ritual in which we turn from things we rely on and turn to our savior instead.  A ritual that forces us to intentionally remember Jesus’ sacrifice.  What a wonderful ritual!

There are many Catholic rituals I don’t understand.  I have been to exactly 1 Catholic mass and remember giggling as the priest put the wafer on my tongue because I couldn’t help but imagine myself licking his hand.  However, I think the Catholic Church is right to continue this ritual of Lent.  In fact, I found the following Ash Wednesday Prayer  on a Catholic website and read it to all my classes today:

Jesus, you place on my forehead
the sign of my sister Death:
Remember you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.

How not hear her wise advice?
One day my life on earth will end;
the limits on my years are set,
though I know not the day or hour.
Shall I be ready to go to meet you? 
Let this holy season be a time of grace
for me and all this world. 

Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
O Jesus, you place on my forehead
the sign of your saving Cross:
Turn from sin and be faithful
to the gospel.

How can I turn from sin
unless I turn to you? 

You speak, you raise your hand,
you touch my mind and call my name,
Turn to the Lord your God again.

These days of your favor
leave a blessing as you pass
on me and all your people.
Turn to us, Lord God,
and we shall turn to you.

Isn’t that beautiful?

This year instead of “giving up” something for Lent, I am adding something that I am told will make me happy.  Allow me to explain.

During a lecture for my Theology class, the professor (a total silver fox, by the way) told us about an experiment that had been done at Dallas Theological Seminary.  Apparently a large group of seminary students were given a personality test that placed them into one of three categories:

1- Happy

2- Normal

3- Clinically Depressed

There were many students in all three of the groups.  (It seems going to seminary does not mean you won’t be depressed.) They also were asked about all the spiritual disciplines they practiced- all the Christian-y things that they did.  How often they went to church, read the Bible, memorized scripture, sang, tithed, rested, prayed, fasted, served- you get the idea.

The study found that there was only one direct correlation between a spiritual discipline and being in the “happy” category.  Every single person who practiced this discipline twice a day was found to be “happy.”  So what was the discipline?

I assumed it would be prayer.

A classmate guessed that it was coffee.

The answer was scripture meditation.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of meditation I think of this:

This is me saying “Huuuummmmmm” (not me about to puke as it may appear).

However, the silver fox explained that scripture mediation is not quite as monkish as I had assumed.  Instead, it involves reading a passage several times.  Over and over again.

Slowly.

Repeatedly.

Letting the words sink in.  Letting them “marinate.” Resting in them. Soaking them in.  Talking to God about them.   Listening to God about them.

The hope is that if you meditate on a passage in the morning, it will be at the forefront of your mind throughout the day.  He also said that there is a reason David writes that we should meditate day AND NIGHT.  Apparently one time of meditation isn’t enough to let the passage really seep in and saturate the soul.  So we’re told to do it twice.

It seems David knew that our days would get busy and our minds would get occupied and as the day wore one, thoughts of God would slowly be replaced with thoughts of self.  So he instructs to meditate at night as well.  (Easy for him to say- he didn’t have episodes of Scandal or The Parenthood to catch up on at night.)

So thanks to King David and the silver fox (aka my professor) I will be meditating on the Psalms for Lent.  I will start and end each day in a Psalm. However, I am a terribly forgetful scatter-brain, so I needed a tangible reminder.  I’ve decided to write on my wrist the first letter of each word of a verse I want to think on during the day.  I know this is a little weird but I’m a little weird.  Here’s my reasoning:

1-The whole verse is too long to write, but the letters will remind me of the words and help me memorize.

2- Before iPhones existed, I used to write my to-do lists on my hands all the time and it was very effective (as long as I didn’t wash my hands).

3- I wash my hands more often now, so I’ve switched to the wrists.

4- I will forget about the passage unless it’s somewhere I’m continually looking.

5- I check out my wrists a lot. (They’re one of my finest features)

6- I used to want to get a tattoo of a verse on my wrist so I would have the daily reminder, but then I remembered that wrist-tats are for cool Christians.

7- I’m not very cool, so I’m settling for a pen-tattoo. Here’s todays passage from Psalm 1:

Yes, I purposefully showed you my beautiful gel nails.  (my second-finest feature) 

If you’re confused by the letters, here is the passage:

Blessed ithe one… whose delight iithe law othe Lord and who meditates ohis law day and night.

I’ve been talking with God throughout the day about what it looks like to be blessed by Him and how to delight in His word.  It’s been a wonderful day.

I know I haven’t written much on this blog lately and to be frank, I probably won’t write a whole lot in the next few months.  Life is good right now but life is full- so very full- so sleep and blogging have taken a back seat.  However, I used my prep period today to write this post because I want to invite you to participate in Lent.  If you haven’t already, hop on this Christian bandwagon.  There’s plenty of room and it’s pretty awesome.

So whether you sacrifice something so you’re more cognizant of Jesus’ sacrifice, or you add something like scripture meditation (it will make you happy!), I hope that you are continually reminded of Jesus’ work on the cross and in your life today.

Shoot.  I just wiped my forehead and got ash all over the keyboard.

 

 

How The Little Mermaid is Like the Christmas Story

A few nights ago I watched The Little Mermaid with my nephews.  The boys were a little confused about the plot, so I explained how Ariel agreed to give up her voice and had to kiss Eric before the sun went down on the third day or else Ursula would control her.  Hudson, the 5-year old, waited for the movie to end before he said, “Katie, when are YOU going to kiss a boy?”

When I told him that was a good question, he replied sincerely, “Maybe when you’re 85?”

Yeah, Huddy.  I feel that way too.

While Hudson was busy thinking about the single status of his aunt, I watched the end of the movie in tears as I realized the parallels between The Little Mermaid and the gospel story. I know I sound a little crazy, but you guys, Disney totally ripped off the Bible.

I don’t know if Walt intended this to be the case or not, but as I explained to the boys that Ariel’s dad was signing the contract with Ursula because he was sacrificing himself for his daughter, I choked up as I realized that this was very much like the Christmas story.

A mighty king:

Comes to save his child bound by evil:

The father takes the place of his child:

And gives up His throne.

The king no longer seems mighty and it appears that evil had won.

But we all know the story doesn’t end with an obese octopus ruling the sea.

The analogy begins to fall apart when instead of Jesus defeating evil by dying on the cross, Eric defeats evil by stabbing her with a sunken ship…

But after the final battle, the king comes back to life:

and those who were once slaves to evil:

are given new life:

Sound familiar?

The movie even ends with a wedding:

much like in Revelation when the bride of Christ (the Church) will finally be joined with the bridegroom (Christ).

I realize that I am reading way too much into a Disney story, but the gospel truths are undeniably present.  Surely Walt knew that a father sacrificing himself for his child and a king giving up his throne to one day defeat evil was not a new storyline.  And it’s not just A storyline.  It’s THEE storyline.  The greatest storyline of all time.  No wonder my nephews and I sat in front of the TV completely mesmerized.

The boys’ faces when King Triton shriveled up and Ursula took over were priceless.  My face probably wasn’t much different.

Shock.

Horror.

Sadness.

These aren’t the typical expressions we wear on Christmas morning because now we know that Jesus was victorious in the end.  Once the king was brought back to life, Vander said, “So it’s a good thing he took Ariel’s place because he still won in the end.”

Yes, Vander.  He still wins in the end.

Today as we celebrate the birth of Christ, instead of picturing this:

I’ll be picturing this:

Because although sweet baby Jesus is much cuter than an animated, shriveled mermaid, when I think of baby Jesus, too often I forget what He gave up to become one of us.

Too often I forget that without Him, I would have still been enslaved like this:

And too often I get so excited about presents and honey baked ham that I forget how much He must have loved me to come to earth and free me from the power of sin.

This Christmas, thanks in part to The Little Mermaid, I will not forget how absolutely INCREDIBLE it was that Jesus became human (aka shriveled mermaid) in order to take my place and save me.  Emmanuel.  God with us.

Merry Christmas indeed!

My Booger-spitting Brother

Somehow this Thanksgiving I ended up at the kid’s table.  It wasn’t intentional but it was pretty fitting.  While other adults around the county talked about football and Obamacare, I had a riveting discussion about how good ham is.  We all agreed.  It’s delicious.

After the meal everyone gathered inside for the candy corn tradition our aunt Deb started years ago.  Everyone pretends to hate this but I think we all kind of love it.  I know I do.  I’m sure tons of families have a similar or maybe even identical tradition where you pass a bowl of candy corn and can’t eat one until you share one thing you were thankful for that year.  You can’t just say “family” because we’re all family.  You have to say why.  And the “saying why” part is my favorite part of Thanksgiving.

This year we passed MnM’s because my cousin conveniently “forgot” to bring the candy corn.  As the bowl passed, gratitude came spilling forth from relatives at all different stages of life.

The young ones, thankful for school;

the engaged cousin thankful she said yes;

the sister-in-law thankful for her job;

the cousin thankful for his life-long friends;

the uncle thankful for his sons;

the grandma thankful for her grandkids, etc.

I probably won’t remember what most people said this Thanksgiving, but I don’t think I’ll soon forget what my brother said.  After several relatives talked about how blessed they have been by their kids, Trent began his turn by saying, “I’m thankful that I don’t have kids.”

We laughed because he sounded like such a kid-hater, but then he explained that he and his wife do want kids one day.  But for now, for today, he is thankful for this time with just her; thankful for this stage of life where they aren’t sleep deprived, they don’t need a babysitter to go to the movies, and a quick trip to Target can actually be quick.  He is thankful for the season God has him in right now.

This wisdom from the guy who still spits his boogers at me and tells people to pull his finger…

My brother’s candy corn thanks seemed to echo the words of Paul.  “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil 4:11-12).

No matter the circumstance, no matter the stage of life, true contentment can always be found in Christ.

Whether you’re a single gal frequenting the movie theaters by yourself…

whether you’re newly engaged and planning a wedding…

whether you’re married without kids or with babies and young kids or with acne-ridden teenagers or with grown kids who have their own kids…

no matter the stage, there is thanks to be found in that season.  We simply need to look.

The danger comes when we start comparing seasons.  When I look at my soon-to-be cousin with a shiny new ring on her finger, it would be easy to think, “Gosh, I wish that was me saying I’m thankful for expensive jewelry.”  But instead, I’ll choose to rejoice with her and be grateful that I have so much time to pour into my niece and nephews and can eat pizza 5 nights in a row if I want to and watch Nashville and Scandal without ever having to watch SportsCenter.

When I look at my cousins so thankful for their adorable kids and my siblings who have such gratitude for their hilarious children, it would be easy to envy their season of life.  But instead, I’ll choose to play with those adorable children and then hand them back when they are less-than-adorable and need a butt spanked or a butt wiped.  I’ll choose to be grateful that right now my stage of life doesn’t require me to discipline toddlers or deal with human poop.

Each season brings its highs and its lows, its joys and its trials.  The key is to focus on the joys rather than the trials and to revel is the highs of the current season rather than long for the highs of a different season.

As one who all-too often forgets and longs for the highs of a different season, I am so thankful that my booger-spitting little brother reminded me to be thankful for today’s joys.

A Valentine from God

This Valentine’s Day I will be spending the evening with a bunch of Korean men.

No, I’m not trying international speed dating.

I’m much too tall for the Koreans.

Rather, I will be in my seminary class where I am one of the few females and also one of the few white people.  I know a 3-hour lecture might not sound like awesome plans for Valentine’s Day, but I love school so I’m pretty excited.  Plus, I’ve got a sleeve of Thin Mints in my book bag, and last week the vending machine accidentally gave me FOUR bags of Famous Amos cookies, two of which I saved for this week.  So yeah, this Valentine’s Day is pretty much going to rock.

For a lot of single people, though, Valentine’s Day does not rock.

For many, February 14 is a dreaded day because it only serves to remind them of their loneliness.  Though it is fun when you’re young and giving valentines to everyone in your class, sadly it has become a day when many teenage girls feel unwanted and unloved.

So this year I’m being super cheesy and am giving all my female students valentines.  Yes, it is a blatant act of favoritism, but it can’t be helped.  I don’t know what a 15 year old boy needs to hear on Valentine’s Day, but I know what reminders the girls need to hear.  Because although I’m often reminded that I’m much older than my students (yesterday one girl asked me if I’d be alive in 50 years), I do still remember the sting of Valentine’s Day for young, single girls.

Thus, my girls will be receiving a letter complete with heart stickers and some lifesavers.  Here’s the Valentine letter they’ll receive:

***

Beloved daughter,

Do you know how much I love you?  I know you often say you do, but do you really?  Do you truly believe that I take great delight in you?   Because I do.  Even when you mess up.  Even when you think you’re disappointing me.  Even then, I take delight in you.  I sing over you!  You bring me great joy!  (Zephaniah 3:17)

Oh how I desire for you to understand this.  To understand that I knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:15) and made you look EXACTLY as I wanted you to.   I know you don’t always feel beautiful, but can you simply trust me when I say that you are?  Can you trust that you are my creation and believe that I, the Creator of the heavens and earth, make no mistakes?  You are my workmanship, my masterpiece, and I want you to grasp how much I dearly love you (Ephesians 2:10).

I know how you seek the affections of men and are affirmed by the praises of others.   But beloved, shouldn’t my affections mean more?

I understand your desire to be noticed and valued and treasured and loved.  I understand this because I made you this way.  I made you with these desires so that you might seek after me and find that only I can fulfill these longings.  Only MY love is sufficient to give you what you’re looking for, to fill your deepest needs.

Would you let me fill them?  Would you let me hold you close to my heart as I so long to do?  (Isaiah 40:11)

Child, I have been wooing you, pursuing you, and drawing you to myself since your birth.  Since even before your birth.  I sent Jesus because of my deep love for YOU. I needed you to see just how much I love you, to see it and believe it.  I bought you at a price and I brought you to life for a reason.

You are not here by accident.  I placed you in your family with a purpose; I chose the time and place you would be on earth because I knew that you would seek me if you lived here and now, and oh how I want you to seek me!  (Acts 17:26-27)

Though I don’t need you, I WANT you.  And I want you to want me too.  I chose you and I redeemed you.  I love you and I long for you to come to me and let me reassure you of my ever-present, everlasting love.

I know you often feel ignored and forgotten, unnoticed and misunderstood.  But this is only when you forget that I, God of all creation, have never ignored or forgotten you.  My eye has always been on you and I understand you better than you even understand yourself.  I look to the depths of your soul; I see every word, deed, and thought and I still love you.  More than you can imagine.

I look at you and see my precious child- holy, chosen, redeemed.  I see past your failings and insecurities and see only the heart and soul that I created- the beautiful girl made perfectly to do what only you can do, to touch the lives that only you can touch.

I see your tears and I feel your pain.  I long for you to come to me when your days are hard and when the hurt is too much.  Come to me when you are lonely or sad or when your burden is too heavy and your hurt is too big.  Come to me and cast your cares before me.  Be honest with me as you rest in my protection and I will make your burden seem light.  I will give you rest and peace and love that no man can ever provide (Matt 11:28; Psalm 91:1; 1 Peter 5:7) .

You never need to pretend with me.  No pretenses or walls will work to keep me out.  I know the depths of your soul.  And it breaks my heart when you think I don’t- when you think I’m forgetful of you and when you choose to ignore me.  Beloved, it saddens me when you value the fickle love of others more than my unfailing love.

Don’t you know that I won’t ever let you down?  Everyone else will disappoint you at times.  But me?  I will never forget you or ignore you or disappoint you.

Don’t you know that I have summoned you by name?  You are precious to me and honored in my sight (Isaiah 43:1,4).

Don’t you see, my beloved?  You are mine.

Forever.

And I am yours.

For eternity.

Love,

God

Happy Valentine’s Day, all!  May we all be reminded of His great for us today.

December Wows

Each month I keep a running list of wow moments on my phone.  This month I checked my list to start writing “December Wows” and the list began with “peed my pants.”  Here was my thought process after reading that bullet point:

Peed my pants?  What the heck?  I didn’t pee my pants this month.

Or did I…?

No, surely I would remember that.

Maybe somebody else peed.

Then why would you write “my pants”?

Good point.  Maybe it wasn’t a bad pee.  Maybe it was more of a squirt and less of a “fill-your-socks” kind of pee.

But when would that have happened?

Come on, Katie.  Think!  Did something super funny happen this month?

Not that I can recall.  Nothing that would make me lose control of my bladder.

Are you sure?

No.  I’m really not.  And now I’m really getting mad at the aging process because not only do I pee myself, I can’t even remember doing it!

A few days later I remembered what had happened.  It’s a long story and it’s not that interesting, but yes, I did pee.  And no, it did not fill my socks.

My friend Lesley introduced me to two wow-wonderful treats this month:

I hate to brag, but I ate over 2,000 calories worth of those chocolates in one sitting.  And I love ordering a “winter dream chai latte” from Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf because it is amazing and it makes me sound like an adult!  – said the girl who only drank hot chocolate until this December.

Thanks for those holiday pounds, Les!  They were well earned!

I took the three rascals to “Christmas Blvd” at my church and it was incredible.  Living in southern California, we miss out on the cold weather, but we know how to pretend.

At church we were able to hang out in a fake forest with real Christmas trees:

sled down a fake mountain with real snow:

(isn’t his face awesome?)

and even walk through a fake snow storm with real wonder:

There were several moments during the night when I was reminded yet again why it’s a good thing I’m not yet a mother.  For starters, we got kicked off the playground which apparently was closed.  (I played dumb with the security officer but had known it was closed since it was pitch black.)

Later, I pacified a cranky Logan with this:

which ended up all over his clothes and in my hair.  Wonderful.

Then when we were making s’mores, I let Logan eat the marshmallow straight off the pointed skewer which had been in the fire.  A cute little old man ran over to stop him because he thought I hadn’t noticed.  I had.  I’m just not exactly “Miss Safety Aware.”

Case in point: one December day my projector in my class wasn’t working so I yanked out the cord and part of the plug got stuck in the outlet.  I told the tech lady (oxymoron?) so she could fix it, and after she fixed it she asked, “How did you get the broken part of the plug out of the outlet?”

Me: Oh I just pulled it out.

Her: With what?

Me: My hand.

Her: Katie?!?

Me: What?  I seriously didn’t know what the big deal was.

Her: You could have easily been electrocuted!

Me: Seriously?

Her: Yes!  People die that way!

Me: Whooops!  (I chose not to tell her that I actually had tried a second time to fix the plug and thus had to pull it out two times. Somehow I missed the “don’t put metal into outlets” lecture as a child.)

During spirit week this Christmas season, I wowed my fashion-conscious students by wearing the same green pants four days in a row:

My original goal was to wear them all five days of the week (because I like to set my goals high), but the butt got too saggy and I was too lazy to wash them.  And no one appreciates a saggy, green butt.

My family wowed everyone in Kimmi’s restaurant when we surprised our mom with a graduation party.  We do tend to make a bit of a scene when all 14 of us go out to eat.  One man asked me if we were mormons.

My mom had finished her BS in nursing (even though she’s been a nurse for 34 years), so we celebrated her with omelets and these signs:

Other signs read:

Our mom is too legit to quit. (She didn’t get the reference.)

“Just did it.”  – Nike (their dog)

Our mom’s da bomb.

and my personal favorite:

Our mom is greater.  Our mom is stronger. Mom, you are smarter than any other. (I’m banking on God having a good sense of humor.)

Speaking of humor in church, check out THIS BLOG POST from “Stuff Christians Like.”  It has a bulletin used by a Catholic church that is pretty awesome.

I was introduced to two new blogs this month which I highly recommend.  For all the single ladies, CHECK OUT THIS BLOG written by single women for single women.   Super encouraging.  Thanks for introducing me to it, Karin!

And for all the married moms, you can thank my friend Christy for introducing me to THIS HILARIOUS BLOG.  It’s one of the few mom blogs that enjoy because she is so stinking funny.

Christmas break has held several wow moments.  I didn’t go anywhere special but I had lots of family time and watched some GREAT tv.  I confess that a major highlight this break was watching the moment between Mary and Matthew at the end of Downton Abbey season two.  It was downright magical.

My brother introduced me to the show Go On, so one day I watched 6 straight episodes and didn’t get out of my pjs until two.

My dad’s brother and his family of six from the Philippines stayed with my parents for the break, making for some wonderful wowness.  We played lots of Dutch Blitz and Up and Down the River, but my favorite moments came while playing Celebrity.  It was hilarious watching the older folks try to describe “Bon Iver” and “One Direction.”  Likewise, we struggled to describe “Mark Spitz” and “Carl Lewis.”  I thought he was “C.S. Lewis.”

When I wasn’t reading blogs or watching TV or playing cards, I was probably running.  My highlight this month was when I turned the corner from my house and stumbled upon this:

It was basically the Indian rose parade!

Yes, there were small children dressed as peacocks and yes I was the only white person around.  Naturally I loved this moment.  If you want to see some wonderfully bizarre dancing in the streets of Little India (aka my neighborhood), WATCH THIS VIDEO.

The only other video I took this month was at Hudson’s Christmas Pageant where he was the “head angel” and had a speaking part.

 Heidi had no clue if he would get stage fright, but turns out that he rather enjoys the spotlight since he YELLED his lines into the microphone.  If you’re curious, HERE HE IS, but if you’re not family, you’ll probably think it’s boring.

This month I received several wow-inducing e-mails and text messages.  Here’s a snippet from my favorite e-mail from a friend who shall remain anonymous:

Anonymous friend, you’re the best.

This text came from my sister-in-law and made me laugh at the absurdity of it:

Someone had accidentally tagged me in a post on Facebook, and the thought of me dancing away at a nightclub in San Diego was quite comical- especially since I had actually been doing homework in my sweats all day.  I didn’t remove the tag so people might think I’m cooler than I am.

This next wow text arrived in the middle of the night:

Three pushes and Walker joined the world.

I love having friends like Megan who send me texts like that one and gifts like this one:

I know what you must be thinking.  But believe it or not, I actually don’t pee my pants on a regular basis.  This was pure coincidence.  Thanks again, Megan!

The final wow text was a heavy one.  Actually, it was the scariest text I have ever received.  It came from my sister, the person closest to me in the world, and arrived the day after the Sandy Hook shooting.

Two days in a row I hit my knees and cried out in desperation.

Thankfully, this time no one was hurt.  A homeless man had shot off 50 rounds into the air in the mall parking lot.  He probably had never even heard of Sandy Hook, and no idea the pandemonium he created in the mall.  Heidi was later able to laugh about the incident and recount how an Asian woman decked out in Coach attire screamed, “Tsunami!!!” as she raced out the door.

Sandy Hook obviously weighed heavy on everyone’s hearts during December.  My pastor was preaching on Luke 2 the next Sunday and did an incredible job explaining why the Christmas story is so important- especially after events like the one that had happened Friday.  Here were some of the lines I found powerful concerning his last main point that the good news brought JOY to the world, right when everything was falling apart:

* One of the juxtapositions of the Christian life is that even in the face of what happened Friday, we still sing “Joy to the World.”

* A baby in a manger changes everything. It’s good news of great joy EVEN in the midst of darkness.

* Our Jesus came in the midst of human tragedy and we can see His fingerprints in the midst of our tragedy.

* Joy is based on the knowledge of the presence of God-with-us at all times from the very beginning.

* The only condition for joy is the presence of God.

* In some crazy way, joy and suffering fit together.

* Sorrow hollows us out so we can be filled.

* The Christmas story means that human history is going somewhere.  So we grieve but not as those who have no hope.  Because we are waiting for Jesus to come and put the world back together.

Yes, I was scribbling like a madwoman during the sermon and had 5 pages of notes by the end.  I’m weird like that.

He ended the sermon with a personal story of a time he dealt with depression.  A friend came over and told him at least 30 times, “It’s not always going to be like this.”  Those words rang out over and over again in the sanctuary:

“It’s not ALWAYS going to be like this.”

“It’s NOT always going to be like this.”

“It’s not always going to be like THIS.”

That truth brought such comfort after Sandy Hook, and for anyone stuck in a situation they long to be out of.  The sermon is called JOY IN THE MIDST OF DESPAIR and can be found by clicking the link and then going to the 12/16 sermon.  He begins by explaining who the shepherds actually were (fascinating stuff that I had never heard!), but if you want to skip to the part where he talks about joy in the midst of despair, that starts at minute 25.

Rather than end on a heavy thought, I’ve saved the Christmas day wow moments for the end.

My thoughtful Aunt Robin had APU basketball uniforms made for the boys:

And Hudson insisted on wearing his super short shorts the entire day:

There was the usual chaos/awesomeness of gift-opening:

Then the girls stood outside and watched:

(missed you, Em!)

as the boys played with their new toys:

He’s a bike cop now!  (kidding)

Heidi and I tried to work off all the candy in our stockings by going for a run:

And in the afternoon, my dad, uncle, 2 cousins, sister-in-law and I went to the park and played full court 3-on-3.  I had to guard my 16 year old cousin TJ.  He was way too fast for me so I tried to slow him down by kicking him in the shins and blowing snot rockets on him.  Still didn’t work.

Vander wowed us with one of this favorite presents, fake teeth:

And Teri wowed us with her ability to fall asleep anywhere and any time:

But she learned her lesson.  If you fall asleep at the Hardeman’s, you WILL be on Instagram and you MIGHT have this happen:

 Who wouldn’t want a 112 pound dog to sit on their face?

Hope your December was full of lots of wows (of the good variety).

Here’s to 2013 being a year full of wows (of the great variety)!

Christmas Surprises

Christmas as a child is full of surprises.  That’s why it’s so fun watching kids open presents.  Their reactions are never fake or forced.  If they love a present, genuine joy spreads across their face.  Like here, when Heidi opened a Barbie car:

And if a child is disappointed by a gift, an instant scowl or look of disinterest appears.

Like the year my brother Trent opened up an expired Lunchable.  He didn’t find it nearly as funny as my dad did.  Nor did he laugh the next year when he opened a box of rocks.  And the year he didn’t give my mom a list so she surprised him with karate lessons when he really wanted roller blades?  Well let’s just say that ever since then we’ve given her very detailed Christmas lists.

I always loved being surprised on Christmas morning.  It was so hard to fall asleep on Christmas Eve because just thinking about the surprise presents soon to be under the tree made me giddy with excitement.

I didn’t expect to receive the gifts on my list like I often do as an adult.  As a child, I simply hoped for things and was still shocked when I got them.  And then there were always other surprise gifts I didn’t even know I wanted.  Like the giant chalkboard I unwrapped one year after my parents had noticed how often I played pretend teacher.

The anticipation of presents and surprises woke us up before the sun rose, and we’d race down the stairs to look in wonder at all the wrapped gifts delivered late in the night.  I think it’s those surprises on Christmas morning that make the 25th so magical as a child.

We don’t get many surprises on Christmas morning any more.  Sure, we’re surprised by the type of candy in our stockings and the style of pjs we open on Christmas Eve, but we usually know exactly what we’ll open Christmas morning.  I had already tried on the running shoes my sister got for me this year. And I knew precisely what my parents got for me since I only had one thing on my list.  And though I love my new Newton running shoes and my Vitamix, I can’t help but miss the wonder of surprise that comes with Christmas as a child.

However, this Christmas season I learned about one of the greatest surprises of all time.

I learned in my seminary class that there was never a prophecy about the Messiah coming from a virgin.

I know. I was shocked too.

In fact, I raised my hand in class and said, “Dr. Way, you’re telling me that there was never ANY prophecy about the virgin birth?  It was a total surprise?”

He assured me that it was and said, “Absolutely no one expected the Messiah to come from a virgin.  It was a bonus.”

My mind raced as it tried to wrap around this idea.  I had always believed that Isaiah had foretold the virgin birth and the Jews had simply misunderstood Isaiah 7:14 just as they misunderstood what kind of Messiah Jesus would be.  So to learn that it was actually I who had misunderstood the verse was more than a little disconcerting.  However, as Dr. Way continued in his lecture, he explained how the verse should actually be read and how it actually reveals an even greater God.

Nerd alert: I’m about to throw a bunch of bible nerdiness on this post.  I find this stuff uber interesting, but realize that not everyone will.  Feel free to skim to the end of this rant if I start to bore you.  No offense taken.

Okay, so in every Evangelical bible Isaiah 7:14 reads something like this:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

But there are several things wrong with this English translation.  First, the verb tense is wrong.  In Hebrew it doesn’t read “shall conceive” as in the future, but rather, it indicates that the woman had already conceived but not yet given birth.  This was huge because Isaiah was referring to a woman who was already pregnant.  In fact, most OT scholars believe this was a woman in the king’s harem whom the original audience would have known.

Therefore, this prophecy that we always assume is about Jesus, was actually about a child named Immanuel who had been born long before Jesus came to earth.

Next, the “sign” that Isaiah mentions was not referring to a miraculous birth.  It was totally normal that a pregnant woman would give birth.  But the sign would be the fact that in a few months, a child would be born and God would once again be with Israel and judge the nations; hence the meaning of his name: Immanuel= God with us.

Here’s the crazy part.

Isaiah didn’t actually use the word “virgin.”  I know.  For the record, I fully believe that Mary was a virgin.  I’m not contesting the virgin birth.

Isaiah used the word “alma” which means young woman- some almas were virgins and others were not, just as some fiances are virgins and others are not.  John H. Walton wrote THIS ARTICLE in 1987 in which he convinced most OT scholars and even the Bible translating committee that “alma” should not be translated as “virgin.” However, the publishers wouldn’t change the translation to say “young woman” because they knew the controversy it would create.  Instead, they added a footnote which indicates that “virgin” can also be translated “young woman.”

If you’re a bible nerd like me, you’ll be fascinated by Walton’s article and this summary:

But even if you’re not a Bible nerd, I think you’ll appreciate the fact that Walton proves that nobody expected a virgin birth.  Not even Isaiah.

When Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14, he wasn’t saying that  prophecy was being fulfilled through the virgin birth.  Matthew often used OT scriptures to make a point, and knowing the OT scriptures much better than us, Matthew knew that this boy named “Immanuel” had already been born.

So when he writes that, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel'” (Matt 1:22), he was using a teaching strategy the Jews accepted.  He was applying a prophecy that already been fulfilled to make a point that God was with them again- just as he was back in Isaiah’s time.

Mary named her son Jesus, not Immanuel, because the angel instructed her to and because Isaiah’s prophecy wasn’t about Jesus.  Matthew simply points out an interesting connection to the OT passage and uses it to illustrate that when Jesus was born, God was with us again.

Bible nerd rant over.

Maybe you buy this and maybe you don’t.  I realize that I’m not exactly a bible scholar.  I’m a girl who reads US Weekly and almost electrocuted herself last week.  But the Old Testament scholars I respect the most, the ultra bible dorks who study the bible for a living, all agree that NO ONE expected a virgin birth.

It was a total surprise.

And I think it says something awesome about our God.

He is a God of surprises.

A God who continually surpasses our expectations.

A God who fulfills His promises in ways far better than we can imagine.

So when He promised a Messiah, the Jews didn’t realize how great this Messiah would be.  They didn’t realize he would come from a virgin and be God himself in human flesh.

What a crazy surprise!

And when God promises to “meet all our needs” (Phil 4:19), and give you “the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4), He often surprises us in the way He does this.  I’ve certainly seen this in my own life.

Last year at this time, I thought for sure God would meet my needs and give me the desires of my heart by providing a job in Chile or Panama or Nicaragua.  And if not that, then I’d stay here and God would provide a husband.  Or even just a boyfriend.

But He didn’t.

Instead, I’m still in America, still living in the same house with my cat still sleeping on my chest, even though my uncle warned me that I could get a parasite that will make me suicidal if she sleeps near my face.

And you know what?  Life is wonderful.

My needs are met.

I’ve been given many of the desires of my heart.

And I get to live in a place of hopeful anticipation, waiting for God to surprise me again.

Because He’s proven Himself to be a good God.  A God who hears our prayers, knows our needs and desires, and chooses to surprise us with the ways He answers our prayers and meets our needs.

Instead of giving His people a mighty human king to overthrow Rome, He shocked the world and gave us His own son, born of a virgin, to overthrow death.

Instead of giving us what we think we need and desire, He continually surprises us by giving us what He knows we need and what we should desire.

So if you weren’t surprised at all this Christmas season, if like me, you got exactly what you asked for, I hope that you can rejoice in the fact that God will surprise you this year.  He won’t give us exactly what we ask for because we often ask for the wrong things.  But He will give us good gifts because He is a loving Father who loves to bless and surprise us.

Would you join with me in asking God to surprise you this year?  Let’s raise our expectations and our hopes in this God who delivers wonderful surprises.

Thirty

I turned 30 today.  

(Present from a clever friend)

People have been asking me if it’s freaking me out and I keep telling them, “No.  But when I turned 29, I cried because I was one year closer to 30.  So I guess I’ve had a year to prepare for this day and now that it’s here, it’s not that scary after all.” (But if I have puffy red eyes tomorrow, know that I had a small breakdown later tonight. Please don’t ask me about it.)

I freaked out when I turned 29 because 30 had always sounded ancient.  People in their 30’s sounded so responsible and boring and well, old.  Plus, I had always assumed that people in their 30’s had life pretty much figured out.  They had husbands and kids and houses and since I was nowhere near to having any of those things, I flipped out a tiny bit.

Somewhere during my 29th year, however, I realized that turning 30 doesn’t mean you have to turn into a responsible bore.  I’m friends with people in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s who are spritely and silly and wildly inappropriate at times.   They’ve shown me that getting older doesn’t mean life gets dull, nor does it mean you have to have life figured out.  Because it turns out that nobody EVER has life completely figured out.  Forrest was right.  Life really IS like a box of chocolates and you really DON’T ever know what you’re gonna get each year.

I’ve found there are only a few constants in life- God will always be good and farts will always be funny.  Almost cverything else is subject to change, and there really is no way of telling what each year or decade will bring.  Some months you’ll get the milk chocolate truffles or peanut butter filled goodness.  But other months you’ll bite right into that cherry-filled nasties.  Regardless, God is still good and farts are still funny.  Each year will inevitably hold surprises, some good and some disgusting, but that is what makes this journey with God so wonderful.  He already knows what surprises are coming our way and will use them for our good and our growth.

So once I let go of the idiotic notion that turning 30 meant I had to have my life sorted out, I relaxed and happily skipped out of my twenties and into the realm of… dun dun dun… adulthood.

Although today marks the official day of my “departure from early adulthood,” there have been signs of this day approaching for quite some time.  Perhaps you too have experienced a few of these.  Here are my 20 signs that I’m becoming an adult: Continue reading

Friday Favorites- VDay Chocolates

Favorite moment involving my nephew and a ball

We were playing kickball in the front yard, and as 3-year old Hudson sprinted to first base, my mom pegged him in the gut with the ball.  Instant tears from Hudson.  Instant laughter from me.  My mom looked at me accusingly and said, “No one told me we weren’t getting him out!”  Tough love from Grandma.  Gotta love it.

For the record, Heidi and Dan don’t always let the boys win.  In fact, while Huddy was still bawling, Dan and Vander started singing some song from Yo-Gabba-Gabba about how “sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”  Hudson was not amused. Continue reading

Rock Candy and Love Letters

My sister-in-law HATES Valentine’s Day.  Like hates it with a passion.  Hates it as much as I hate pickles and traffic.  And it’s surprising because not only is she married, she’s a hopeless romantic who loves chick flicks and wears a lot of pink.  Naturally, one would assume that a girl like Emma would love today.  But oddly enough, she doesn’t.

And me?

Well I’m 29, single, and have yet to have had a Valentine’s Day date, so if you do the math, it logically follows that I should despise Valentine’s Day, right?  I should groan and grumble about how this is a pointless holiday Hallmark made up and I should wear lots of black and feel miserable all day long.  But oddly enough, I don’t.

I used to.  I used to belong to the group of girls that refer to today as, “Single’s Awareness Day” and was a little bit bitter with the world on February 14th.  But I’m not any more. Continue reading

Christmas Confessions

Every Christmas morning for the past 20 some odd years, I’ve called my friend Megan and we talk about our presents.  Our conversations used to be about  bikes, roller blades, American girl dolls, and the fact that my parents STILL wouldn’t get me a trampoline.  This was the first year we didn’t have our Christmas day chat and it’s because Megan died.

Just kidding.

Her family flew to Mexico on Christmas day.  Was that joke about her death a little too morbid?  I don’t think it was.  Especially since Megan often insists that if she does die young, I marry her husband.  I used to get uncomfortable when she would make these jokes, but now I tell her that I’m going to change her son’s name from Holt to Holten when I’m his mom.  See?  This is just the kind of friendship we have.

But since Megan was flying to Mexico on Christmas, we had our annual, “What’d you get for Christmas?” conversation on the twenty-third.  It wasn’t a long conversation- partly because we hadn’t gotten anything yet and partly because while talking to her, I was driving and missed my freeway exit and ended up ironically much closer to Mexico than I was supposed to be.

Megan is a devoted reader of this here blog and during our conversation, she scolded me for not updating it.  I told her I just hadn’t felt like writing and she replied, “Ok good.  That’s much better than your lame ‘I’m too busy’ excuse.”

She can say things like this to me because we’ve been friends since before we starting shaving our legs.  In fact, she was the friend who convinced me I needed to start shaving my legs.  Remind me to punch her for that.  And though I have indeed been busier than usual, my real reason for neglecting the blog is because I simply haven’t felt like writing.  I think they call it writer’s block.  But I’m not technically a “writer”, so maybe it’s just laziness.  But no matter the reason, now my fingers have the itch again so here we go.

This year’s Christmas Confessions in no particular order: Continue reading