Friday, November 21, 2014

A Holiday Season with Meaning: Giving Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh + the Family Stocking

*I was a bit hesitant to share this, simply because there are so many ways to celebrate Christmas in a Christ-honoring fashion that I didn't really know if one more was necessary. But recently, I've had several people ask me what we do for gifts for our family, so I thought I'd put it here for anyone who was interested.....

The Christmas after Ghana's first mall was built in the capital was not pretty.
Up to that point, buying anything nice for Christmas gifts was outrageously expensive.
Plus, we were a young couple with one baby.
Christmas, up to that time, had been pretty quiet affairs.
But then the mall got built,.......
and availability of toys went up,......
and prices of toys went way down,.......
and we now had a five-year-old and a two-year-old,......
and some of the stores accepted credit cards,.......
and we went hog-wild.
That's an embarrassing admission, but totally true.
{And necessary for the rest of this to make sense.}

John and I couldn't wait 'til Christmas morning!
I thought our girlies eyes would pop out of their heads when they came into the front room.
There were packages everywhere!
But something strange happened.
About a third of the way into the gift-opening, the girls started flagging, and by two-thirds of the way through, they were getting grumpy, and by the last few, one if not both of the girls were crying.
By the time everything was opened, they just sat there dazed, until one of them started playing with the torn shreds of wrapping paper.
It was too much.
It was our worst Christmas ever.

The next Christmas was a bit better, but we still were drifting, unsure of exactly what we wanted our Christmas as a family to look like.
One day I stumbled across an idea {I'm not even sure where now} that seemed like what our family had been searching for.
I ran it by hubby, and he agreed.
We shared the idea with the kiddos to get them used to it, and then the next Christmas we made the switch.
It was our first best Christmas as a family,
and every year since then has just gotten better!

Since the idea of giving gifts at Christmas can be traced to the gifts brought by the Wise Men, we used that as our pattern.
Now each family member gets three gifts:  gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Gold is a gift of great value.
We take our time during the year thinking about the one nice thing that the individual would really like.
An instrument to learn to play. A collection of games. A bike. A trip.

Frankincense is a gift for the body.
As this is a gift for the body, it is quite broad.
New clothes. New shoes. A Piece of Jewelry. Perfume. A coat.

Myrrh is a spiritual gift.
Anything that can encourage Christian growth is included in myrrh.
A Bible. A devotional. A notebook. A Christian biography. A book by a favorite Christian author. A Patch the Pirate CD.

We also have a Family Stocking.
On our first furlough, John's family gave us Christmas in July before we returned to the field.
Our family was given one giant stocking.

Our family stocking holds gifts for the whole family.
New family movies. Board games. Card games. Lego sets. Craft supplies. Shadow Puppets.
Anything the family can enjoy together!

We enjoy our Christmases so much more now than we did before.
Our gifts have meaning, Christmas doesn't break the bank, and it helps turn our eyes off of the 'stuff ' and onto enjoying celebrating Christ's birth as a family!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

For the Days When You Can't Make the Pieces Fit Together....

I once thought my life would be all put together when I became an adult.
And when I became an adult?
I decided that it would be all neatly fitted together when I got married....
when I got to the mission field......
when I became a mama......
when I learned the language.....
when the kids got a little older......

But instead I found out that no moment, no single day made me into what I was supposed to be.

I remember my call to the mission field.
It was a hard-fought battle, and thankfully, I lost.
I knew I wasn't ready to be a missionary, but I also knew that He who had called me would faithfully prepare me to go.
Somewhere along the way, though, that truth slipped from my grasp.
It started out well enough.....
"If I just learn _____________, I'll be ready and prepared to go serve the Lord anywhere!"

But each time I filled in the blank?
Well, then I thought of something else.
I needed to learn to teach children.
I needed to learn basic first aid.
I needed to learn how to teach English as a Second Language.
I needed to learn how to sew, kill a chicken, fix a car, paint a house, draw, knit, write, illustrate, translate.....
the list just continued to grow.

I wanted to cram it all in ~ every bit of knowledge I could ~ so I could be a good missionary.
But then one day, it was time to get on the plane......
and I wasn't ready.
I didn't know enough.

We got to the field, and we were young, and we didn't know enough.
In fact, we found out we didn't really know anything.....
nothing that would help us survive a brand new life in a foreign place.
A few hard months in, when every dream I had about being a missionary was shattered in pieces, and I was scared to walk out my front door, truth finally broke free in my soul.
I could never know enough or be enough.
I had to trust the One Who Was Already Enough to give me what I needed.

And so it began.
As I surrendered to the lessons, He taught me.
He wouldn't force anything on me.
It was my choice.
But as I chose to learn the hard things, He gave me what I needed.
One tiny thing at a time.

My life became a simple cord in the hands of the Master Jeweler.
It was His to string as He saw fit.
Some days the lesson beads of life have been beautiful, bold, vibrant.
Other times, they've been beads carved by trials and pressures.

Some of my lessons have been formed just like the glass beads ~
first the breaking, then scorching heat, melting to the point of destruction, and finally cooling time alone, before anything beautiful can be ascertained.

Spaced among these lessons have been gifts:  pendants of great beauty that I never expected, never dreamed could be a part of my life.
Yet, there they are ~ shining testimonies of the genius of the Artist.

Some days the strand doesn't seem enough.
Inadequate, I'm sure.
On those days, I must rest solely in my Designer.
He is stringing my life with the bead lessons I need, and when He is finished, it will be an ornament of His grace, a testimony to my Creator.
A life formed by the hand of the Master Craftsman.

*We had the amazing opportunity to visit the Bead Market in Koforidua last week. It's the largest bead market in West Africa and is held every Thursday at Jubilee Park.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

For the Days When You Must Hunt for the Beautiful.......

Some days are bright and happy and sing from beginning to end.
But there are other days, when I must hunt for the beautiful.....

After a slow day, or a rough day, or an emotional day, or a hurried day,
I must remember to get up and open my eyes.

I must peel off the scales of ingratitude that quickly cloud my vision.
I must shake off the apathy that so easily settles on my soul.

I must climb high and look low.
I must pull back, and pull apart, and pull down the things that keep me from seeing.
I must search for the treasures that are hidden all around me, often in plain sight.
I must choose to be a glory-hunter, a beauty-chaser, a soul following hard after Him.

And as I reach out to gather all the magnificent close......
His right hand holds me right up.....
Pinning me fast to His side....
surrounded by the beauty that He is.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Our First Christmas in Ghana

I'll never forget my first holiday season here in Ghana. All the trees were green and full. No leaves to crunch through and jump in. No apple orchards or pumpkin patches to visit. No smell of burning leaves in the air. No Halloween candy. No turkey sales. No Christmas music. No bell-ringers. The only Christmas lights were those worn by the bars all year long.
It was bright and sunny, hot and getting hotter, and definitely not feeling like the holidays were fast approaching.
John and I had come to the field with ten cardboard boxes and two suitcases ~ all the meager possessions we had to start our new life in Ghana. I'd decided to leave most of our Christmas decorations back in the States, as we didn't have much space and I was quite sure that we wouldn't need those "sentimental" things as we started on our newest adventure. We were missionaries now! What would we need Christmas decorations for?
When October arrived, I dug out my three straw pumpkin decorations I'd stuffed in the top of a box. I left them out for November, too. As Thanksgiving approached, I wondered what we'd do to celebrate. All our money was being saved to pay for our baby's birth in January. The missionary we'd been planning to work with had left after being with us for one month. We still didn't have our own place to live, and I had an electric tabletop burner and one kerosene burner to cook with. I finally came up with the idea of cooking a roast. I bought a chunk of beef and put it in a pot with an envelope of Lipton's dry soup mix that John's sweet Granny had included in the last letter she'd sent. We scrounged together enough money to buy a box of UHT milk, Cornflakes, potatoes, canned marrow peas, chocolate biscuits {cookies}, and a few packets of ice cream. It was the biggest feast we'd had since our arrival in August.
I boiled that hunk of beef for two hours to get it soft, I tried to layer the smashed biscuits and ice cream into some kind of ice cream pie, and we made handprint turkeys and Indian head-dresses. I remember swallowing down tears with every single bite of that tough meat and those funny tasting peas.
On December 1st I set out our nativity, the only Christmas decoration I'd thought to bring. John found a tailor nearby and tried to describe Christmas stockings to him. Hubby asked if he could sew us some from his scrap material. About a week and a half before Christmas, we found a store selling Christmas trees ~ three of them! We picked the biggest one, which was about 3 feet tall, some racing rice lights, and some silver plastic bells. With the few hand-sewn ornaments the missionary had left us, we now had our Christmas tree! We put it up on several boxes so it looked a bit taller, and when two Christmas boxes arrived from our families, we finished it off with the candy canes they'd sent. {Need I tell you that they melted into very sticky bug catchers after a few days?}
John picked up our stockings ~ they looked a bit like Tetris blocks instead of socks. We pulled out the wrapping paper rolls my smart sister-in-law had cut in half and stuffed into the sides of one of our boxes and realized we had just one small gift for each of us........and no more money. So we decided to hunt in our boxes. As we had no home yet, and no place to unpack, our boxes had been mostly untouched since we'd arrived. John began to find me "presents," and I found "gifts" for him ~ things that both of us had mostly forgotten about.
On that hot Christmas morning, with the sun pounding in on us, we sat and shared Christmas together.
And I realized on that day that I could make Christmas anything I wanted it to be.
The holidays had been like nothing I'd ever experienced, and yet I'd been able to celebrate them.
They didn't look the same, sound the same, smell the same, or feel the same.
There was no snow, no family, no friends, no traditions.
But I still had much to be thankful for and I still had Jesus.
And in the end?
I found out that He was enough.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Holiday Season with Meaning: Give Thanks!

Maybe you ate too much candy last night, or you're still finding bits of caramel stuck in your teeth from a delicious caramel apple.
Maybe there are remains of party messes and costume piece scattered here and there around your house.
Maybe you're one of those who wants to pull out the Christmas tree and string the lights tonight.

If all you really want is the perfect holiday season this year ~ no stress, no pressure, no arguments, no worries, no disappointments, something with real meaning ~ then I encourage you to start here.
Start with a thankful heart.
In the short time I've lived on this Earth, I've learned that no amount of festivities, decorations, presents, or parties can make up for an ungrateful heart.
A heart, mind, and mouth that whispers its thanks daily will find the coming weeks to be beautiful and abundant. 
You will find beauty and joy in the fleeting and the momentary; you'll find contentment and calm in the gifts and the busyness.
Seek for truth. Hunt it down.
Then write it, share it, live it together.

Take the time to thank.......
a thankful tree....
a thankful wreath....
a thankful garland....
a thankful board....
a thankful tablecloth...
or maybe a box and turkey like ours.

Choose something.
Make it your own;
Begin a season of gratefulness with those you love most,
and enjoy watching the joy that only true thankfulness brings unfold.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

For the Days When You Need Instagram for the Soul.....

Tonight I found a poisonous millipede in the bathtub while bathing Mackay.....
It was alive.
No picture.

I tried my hand at garden egg stew....again.
It was too fishy.

{I probably should have guessed that might be a problem since it had fish in the ingredients three times.}

Carey noticed the pit shower had clogged after her shower, so she cleaned it out.
The three-year old had emptied her dirty potty and left the remains in the shower.....
not sure how many days that had been sitting there.
No picture.

School was fine.
I knocked down all the cobwebs in the house.
The baby only ripped up one roll of toilet paper, ate one small box of matches, and smacked her head on anything hard once today.
No picture.

The lights were on.
The water was back after being off yesterday.
I have a mountain of laundry.

This is how my life was spent today.
None too glamorous.

But is that the point of life?
That it looks good in the pictures?
Or is life supposed to be lived for good or bad, for beautiful or ugly, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, whether or not supper turns out the way I hoped or there are creepy things in the bathtub?
Because if I base the worth of my life, the amazingness of this one life on how good it would look on facebook.....
many of my days could seem worthless.

I would love to have an Instagram feed.......
but I don't have a smart phone.
{I'm quite convinced I'm not smart enough to use one anyway!}
Then I think about that.....
and wonder what I'd actually take pictures of.
My walk down the dusty road to buy hot peppers for supper?

The millipede?
No picture.
School books?

Messes that only a one-year old and a three-year old could create?
No picture {*I've shared way too many of those in the past!}.
My overflowing mending basket?
No picture.
The flooded bathroom {again}?
No picture {*see above note}.
Maybe a selfie of my messy hair and sweaty face after a hot day?
No picture {*see above note}.

Then I ask myself......
isn't my life worth more than the things I can capture with my lens?

What if life isn't about the things I can capture with the snap of my camera, but about the things I can't always see.....
the things I have to capture with a heart that searches for the hidden blessings?

What if it is about......
The smiling face of my neighbour when I greet her and inquire about her family and business in the language she can understand?
The millipede that I saw before it stung baby or me?
The twinkle in my daughters' eyes when they listen to their history story and something clicks?
The little ones who've slowly been learning to sit a little longer, play a little quieter, fuss a little less while Mama teaches the older girls?

Enough clothes to wear that the mending basket can overflow a little longer?
The bathroom that now has a clean floor {thanks to an unexpected deluge of water!}?
The "less-than-perfect" look at the end of the day that shows I've worked hard and served my family?

Maybe that's the feed I need at the end of the day......
instead of an Instagram of beautiful pictures, I need an Instagram of beautiful truths.
Images that remind me that my God is good,
my life is blessing on top of blessing,
and that hidden gifts are everywhere, if I'm willing to look hard enough.
My own Instagram feed for the soul.