Facetiously I told the girls..."I really want you to be as much like Jesus as you can, so tonight you are sleeping in the barn, maybe naked, but you'll get a few rags that we'll call swaddling cloths." This comment said in jest, turned into one of the highlights of our Christmas season. After a delightful family visit on December 24th (spending the day on our farm with my family: Laura, Sarah, Caleb, David, Violet, Monty, and Mom) our smaller gang of 6 gathered blankets, candles, coats, the Bible and a hymnal and headed to the hayloft. For the past 4 weeks we have been having evening family devotions centered around advent meditations. We continued in that same vein while moving temporarily to the barn.
We arranged a clearing on the floor of the hayloft and lit four candles in glass jars. After arranging ourselves in various ways on the hay (one of us swinging from the rafters as the high hay piles gave access to new heights) we were able to think about Jesus in new perspectives. The hay was scratchy, and we knew from experience it probably had some spiders. The barn was drafty yet cozy, and held the smell of animals along with the foreign sounds of the horses' movements beneath us. The animals were confused by our presence, and I wonder how the animals responded when Mary and Joseph entered their space. Maybe there were no animals there as the season for sheep being in the fields was upon them. I still find it appalling that God would allow His Son, His Heir and co-Creator of all creation, to make His physical appearing to mankind in the context of a used feeding trough. Really, how deplorable. I would never, of my own free will, lay my child in a feeding trough or manger. "Away in the Manger" took on a more substantial meaning as we sang with scratchy-though-sincere voices as we inhaled the dust from the hay into our lungs.
The past two days I have interacted at Children's Hospital and Ronald McDonald House with the Matheny's, our friends whose daughter has leukemia. As I visited with Kim, the mom, she told me with tears in her eyes, that she would do anything to stop her daughter's suffering, anything. Kim has spent the past month watching Kierra go through a bone marrow transplant, seemingly coming as close to death as possible, with the hopes that she'll make a recovery. Kim proceeded to tell me that she sees God's love for us in a whole new way. He sent His Son into suffering and had the power to stop any struggle, but never did because of His great love for us. How truly foreign Love is. Only Love Himself can define Love. The world offers us many definitions for love, and broken meanings of Christmas to boot, but Love in the form of a suffering servant, born in a dirty stable is not love in the dictionary of our self-gratifying soul.
The Love of our God coming to earth in a stable is contradictory to the world and divinely marvelous! How thankful we are as a family to celebrate Christmas in our hayloft with the Love of our Saviour burning brighter than the candlelight.
Friday, December 28, 2012
“Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.” (Luke 1:58) Tonight as we had our family advent meditation, which was filled with a fight over where to sit, some tears, an over zealous dog wanting to play fetch, and a backdrop of Christmas lights, Dasen read these words from the book of Luke. We as a family want to share with you how God has shown us great mercy and filled our hearts with joy, in hope that your joy measures fuller in return.
Our family over the past year or so has seen God work in marvelous redemptive ways in our lives and in those around us. In celebration of Christ’s birth we want to share what we have seen Him do as evidences and encouragement that He is more real than the wind, and still alive with His heart beating in this world even to this day.
One of my favorite God stories is when God kept an appointment with me that I had forgotten. In Sunday school one day we were discussing a woman at the well who had five husbands and how Jesus interacted with her. I realized that a woman like her lived just down the street from me. The Holy Spirit laid her family of 5 children heavy upon my heart and as I prayed for her throughout that morning I wrote on my church bulletin, “Pray for a divine appointment on Wednesday.” I prayed for that appointment for two days, but by day three, Wednesday, I had totally forgotten the appointment. Around 5 pm the doorbell rang and immediately I remembered my conversation with God. I hurried to the door and excitedly greeted two of the children from the household for which I had been praying. They were selling cookie dough and I exuberantly bought some and introduced them to my family. Michelle (13) and Ethan (9) were probably not expecting such a response. Ethan looked a bit bewildered and said, “Is this a church? Because when we were walking up here I thought this might be a church.” Joyfully I answered, “Well, no this isn’t a church, but I pray for God’s presence here everyday, so that’s kind of like a church.” Ethan said, “I’ve always wanted to go to church but never have.” “Well, we’re going to church in a couple hours, you can come with us.” And so they did. They went a couple more times with us, but shortly after meeting them, they moved again. They were gifts sent to us to remind us of God’s heart. We pray their seeds of faith are getting watered wherever they are, and we long to see them in heaven one day.
Tragedy hit us hard one week this past summer. Two dire situations suddenly arose which devastated our family’s heart. One of these circumstances involved our dear friend, Kierra Matheny (9). She was happily playing at our farm, but the following week didn’t show up for ballet class. Thinking she might have a cold, I called her mom to check on her, and found they were in the hospital with a diagnosis of leukemia, a rare undifferentiated type. Kierra had taken a sudden turn for the worse with a mass growing large in her chest and dire lab reports. She has spent most of the past 4 months in the hospital receiving chemotherapy, radiation, and now a bone marrow transplant at Cincinnati Children’s. Our family has shared in the sufferings of this dear little girl and her faith-filled family. God has appeared time and time again in her treatment plan. A truly amazing God sighting occurred when Kierra’s labs showed no leukemia cells after just 2 rounds of chemo. As she completes the recommended course of therapy we continue to yearn and pray for God to be with the Matheny’s in the furnace and for their family to come out of this “not even smelling like fire,” because the God we serve and celebrate has been known to do that.
The other tragedy that struck us the same week we heard of Kierra’s diagnosis, was that of some dear friends struggling in their marriage. Things turned ugly quickly and it appeared there was no hope for improvement. We continued to pray fervently for the situation, yet even my prayers lacked faith at the time. Much to our surprise God appeared once again. (I know people say “Why should we be surprised at God?” But just to let you know, I routinely am.) Our friends were together at church less than a month later, kneeling at the altar with Dasen and I kneeling behind them giving thanks and begging for ongoing mercy. I am amazed by God that He can heal even the most broken of situations in our lives and in those of others. Our marriage has been broken before and we can honestly say that God is the mender of broken hearts. We celebrate His courage to intervene in this world, once so long ago in Bethlehem, and still daily in our hearts.
Lastly, I just want to share awe at how God continues to provide care for my mother. Taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s has some odd consequences, like dishes found in weird places, dirty laundry mixed with clean, missing spandex soccer shorts being found on grandma... yet I am joyfully amazed at how God works to choreograph our busy family of seven into a brilliant dance of life for Him. He knew when I surrendered my physician assistant job to care for my mother and children, that my identity would be redefined in ways I did not find fulfilling. Even so, I want to proclaim that He is enough. We are completely dependent on Him for establishing peace in our household, and we are clearly in need of His daily intervention. I have loved seeing Him show up. One of the ways I admire Him is how he brought a caregiver neighbor to assist us in caring for mom. Mechelle is on a path of redemption and God allowed us to be a part of that. After a Holy Spirit driven dream, Mechelle moved back to this area to care for her ex-mother-in-law, who eventually died shortly after we moved here. Mechelle has had a painful past with abuse and neglect in her childhood, and gangs, and prison in her adulthood. She has been redeemed by our Savior and is a blessing to share God’s love with my mom. Mechelle and mom regularly exercise, care for daily needs, and visit shut-ins.
Our girls continue to thrive. They are really such a central joy to our lives. We see God at work in their lives as they are daily molded into disciples. One of the most amazing things about walking together closer to the Lord and spending so much time together in home school is that we know each other's strengths as well as weaknesses. This lends itself to a communal sense of admonition and character formation. As we go about our daily lives of caring for chickens, learning geometry, studying passive verbs and active verb forms, riding horses, cooking tempe and bok choy or pumpkin muffins (both made today) or doing music, theatre or co-op, and greeting Daddy at the door with eight arms and a kitchen chair so one can making a running leap into his arms... we find God delightfully alive and in our midst, creating peace out of chaos, and being the eye in the midst of storms.
So Happy Birthday to Jesus, who still is meeting us where we are today and working with His long scarred hands of salvation to show us His creative and powerful love. May you share His joy with us in every way.