Wednesday, December 31, 2014

1000 gifts: skating, ballet, and other Christmas fun

My gifts (blessings) from December... this 1000 gifts list is mostly written for myself and for my family. I don't expect anyone else to read all these details, but I decided to leave these posts "public" just in case they might inspire someone else someday to start keeping a gifts list. Keeping this list has changed my life.

969. Eight years of twin bundles of joy

970. Getting two job offers within hours after being laid off
This all happened on B's birthday! We went from despair to praising God within a span of a few hours.

971. a call to make Christmas "reservations" 
For reasons that I wrote in a post earlier this month, the holidays were hard for us this year... I've really struggled with feelings of isolation. After a particularly blue, grumpy, frustrated day (and night), I got a phone call from my friend in Colorado Springs, K.A., asking if she could make "reservations" for her family to stay at our house the day after Christmas and visit. Her call was like an answer to prayer (except I'd been too grumpy to pray, so it was purely a gift of grace).

972. Coming home to a decorated house
While I was at work one afternoon, the girls got out all our Christmas decorations and set up our nutcracker collection, Christmas village, and nativity scene. They even hung the Advent calendar. It was so delightful to come home to a decorated house and not have to do any of the unpacking and arranging. After we got our live Christmas tree, they hung all the ornaments too. Normally I love doing all the decoration, but it was so nice to have the kids do it this year for me for a change, and they loved it too.

973. A written testimony at a memorial
Went to a friend's mother's memorial which was heartbreaking - she died in her 50's from cancer - but also joyful in the respect that she had written her testimony of coming to know Jesus and her walk with God and the pastor read her testimony out loud. It was far more powerful hearing her own words than any eulogy I've ever heard.

974. Interstellar
Blaze came with me to see the science fiction movie Interstellar, which was breath taking, mind-bending, and thoughtful. I loved the space travel, the worm hole, the black hole, and the fascinating plays of relativity and gravity and quantum entanglements. My scientific side loved seeing how gravity is the only force  that transcends time and how gravity was used for communication across time. My romantic side appreciated the parallel of "love is the one thing that transcends time and space." This NY Times article about the movie opened even more paths of thought, too, about how science influences our worldviews; I might have to read poet Christian Wiman's "My Bright Abyss" some day.

975. Blaze and Dreamer got to "steal" gifts at their first White Elephant Christmas party
with bonus fun, because it was our equestrian club party, all the gifts were horse-related. Dreamer got a cute purse with an embroidered horse and a shirt with a horse on it too.

976. The twins' first Nutcracker ballet
The University of Wyoming does a Nutcracker ballet once every four years, and it's affordable so we can take the whole family. And they do such an amazing job for a local production! The party and mouse king scenes were so funny (they always add some Western touches... mice with cowboy hats and six shooters) and the 2nd half was so magical. It was Serious and Starlet's first ballet and though they got a little restless at the end, I could tell that it captured their imagination because they've been doing a lot of twirling and dancing at home since then!

977. Dreamy dancing
The Arabian dance took my breath away because the three performers danced with a giant, billowing silken scarf (like this image, except the scarf was hanging from the ceiling).
They'd wrap themselves in it and then spin out of it, or pull it this way and that, and it would billow out and float above them, and catch the light just so! The Pas De Deux is always so romantic and the minor shift in the Waltz of the Flowers makes me catch my breath, too. They had little kids from the local gymnastic program in Russian fur hats doing cartwheels and handsprings in the Russian dance, how in the world did they keep those big furry hats on?

978. learning how to draw app
Dreamer downloaded this neat app that taught her some wonderful sketching techniques: how to draw expressions on a face; how to shade a body. Her drawing improved remarkably, I was really impressed

979. Dinosaur app and dino story
Meanwhile, Blaze's discovery in the app department is a dinosaur park game that actually teaches quite a lot about dinosaurs... she has learned so many different dinosaurs and facts about them that she sounds like a budding paleontologist. Blaze also wrote me (and illustrated) a 10 chapter story about a girl who could turn into different dinosaurs - with some creative ideas and genuine laugh out loud moments

980. Dreamer's imaginary world
One night while Dream was brushing my hair (how heavenly it is to have your hair brushed! I like it more than a massage!) she told me all about her imaginary world, Horcan, which runs on happiness, and has only one entrance: belief. It's a forest where the trees are hung with ornaments and lockets and keys, and all the animals have houses. Fairies can weave clothes out of water.

981. Dreamer, Serious and Starlet in the church Christmas program
Since this is Dreamer's last year to participate, she finally got a speaking part, and the twins were adorable singing and pretending to be sheep 

982. Starlet: "you wanna knuckle sandwich?"
My littlest girl says this with a grin when she puts up her fists and faces off with her sisters. Another thing she also threatened Blaze with (oh so cutely): "let me squeeze you until all your laziness comes out!"

983. Ice skating with the girls
This was Serious and Starlet's first time skating: they fell about every 5 seconds but loved every moment of it.

984. Friends delivering cookies
We had two different friend's families make us Christmas cookies this year - some of them very fancy and gourmet

985. The delicious danger of jalapenos
B.'s new job had Christmas lunch for the crew - Mexican enchiladas. The Mexican workers teased him about not putting any jalapenos on his enchiladas "it'll put hair on your chest". B.'s response: "it's the hair on my hiney I'm worried about!" 

986. Candlelight Christmas Eve service
We sang two of my favorite: Oh Holy Night and Come Now Our King

987. the old carol, In the Bleak Midwinter
In my earlier December post, I shared how this old hymn had new meaning to me this year

988. Thorin's quote at the end of The Hobbit 
Took Dreamer and Blaze to see the last movie of the Hobbit. While I didn't like all the additions to the story, I did like that they kept some wonderful dialogue from the book, like Thorin's last words: "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world" - and I loved the song during the credits, "The Last Goodbye" by Billy Boyd

989. Biker nutcracker 
The perfect addition to my nutcracker collection from K.A. and her husband, who are bikers and members of biker church

990. Zip line in the snow
Day-after-Christmas fun with the kids up at the Snowy Range Lodge with Heather's family

991. Article on Our longings & God's glory
Heather has been taking a Christian counseling class and shared this article with me, "Who Are We? Needs, Longings, and the Image of God in Man" by Edward Welch. I'm going to write more about this,  because I think "glory" will be my theme word for 2015, but here is a one sentence summary: it is not so much that God fulfills our longings but that we radiate his Glory. The focus is Him, not us.

992. Theological debate with friends
K.A.'s family stayed with us the evening after Christmas and I got some lively (but kind) theological debate with them: they have anti-Calvinist views on the doctrine of election. I'm not an extreme Calvinist; I found my beliefs best expressed in this article Another view on the Biblical doctrine of election. Charles Spurgeon said it best when he called it “Perseverance of the Savior”, rather than Calvin's perseverance of the saints.

993. Galations 6:9 Let us not become weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a reward if we do not give up. 
I admit there's some relationships that I felt like giving up on recently... this verse during our ladies' study of Galatians reminded me to never give up

994.  I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day - Casting Crowns version 
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men

And the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir they're singing (Peace on Earth)
In my heart I hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

But the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (Peace on Earth)
Does anybody hear them?
Peace on earth, good will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep (Peace on Earth, peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men

Then ringing singing on its way

The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men

And the bells they're ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir they're singing (Peace on Earth)
And with our hearts we'll hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

Do you hear the bells they're ringing? (Peace on Earth)
The life the angels singing (Peace on Earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (Peace on Earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men

Peace on earth, Peace on earth
Peace on earth, Good will to men

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Two different kinds of Christmases

It's Christmas Eve and I am enjoying this moment to relax and revel in my favorite evening of the whole year, nestled up with my blanket near the fire and the Christmas tree. Earlier we went to the candle light Christmas Eve service and sang favorite carols (including my favorite, O Holy Night) and hugged friends, then came home to sing a few more carols together as a family after dinner and read some Christmas books (the Little Drummer Boy, If You Take A Mouse to the Movies, and the Nutcracker are favorites). We did the last day of the Advent calendar, and the girls helped wrapped a few presents and helped me make Spanish bar cake (for Dad) and peach pie (for B.).

Now the girls are tucked in bed and I wanted write about what's been in my mind on and off the past few days, and really came into focus with the message tonight at church. How there are two very different kinds of Christmas, and I love them both. Technically I suppose there three types of Christmas: the first one I don't like is commercial Christmas. We try to fight this by giving gifts to Angel Tree and Christmas Child ministries and emphasizing to the kids how helping others and making homemade gifts from our heart are the best gifts, not the latest toys and gadgets.

The second Christmas is the magical one: the Christmas classic movies like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman and It's a Wonderful Life and the most magical story of all (in my opinion!) the Nutcracker.  Giant growing Christmas trees and toy soldiers battling mice! A broken nutcracker turned into a Prince and candy and toys coming to life! It's like becoming small enough to climb right into a Christmas tree and be completely surrounded by the magic. I get this same delicious feeling in decorating my own house, and visiting other decorated houses full of twinkling lights and garlands and Christmas cards, and lush Christmas parties with all the fixings.

This magic can be a little fickle, though. Some years (like this year in particular for me), it feels lovely one moment, and empty the next. Can one burn out on all the trimmings? One can certainly feel disillusioned by it.  A death in the family can set all the beloved traditions awry.

B.'s mom died in March and this is our first Christmas without her, and also, because of B.'s new job and limited time off, the first year we haven't been able to visit our out-of-town family for either Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's. One of his sisters and her family was going to visit us for Christmas but they had to cancel. So I've been feeling isolated and blue. Blaze and Dreamer actually did all the Christmas decorating because I couldn't summon any motivation for it. I did get a tree and set it in a stand, but the girls put the lights on it and decorated it. Dreamer asked me when we start doing the Advent calendar together (we have an elaborate home made version) and I kept saying "okay, we'll start tomorrow night" - when I finally joined them one night I was humbled to see that the girls had been hanging all the little figures and their accompanying verses without me for the first 12 days.

The Christmas that always feels real and true, and deeply beautiful (not just sparkly beautiful), is the stark Christmas, the First Christmas where travelers were not welcomed when they arrived (the message at church tonight was about this, how Joseph and Mary were likely rejected because of the scandal about her pregnancy before marriage). Their baby was born in a stable. There were no family or friends, there were no decorations, there was no feast, there was no celebration, at least not on earth.

The angels were the only ones to rejoice and sing, and the star shining in the sky was the only decoration. The shepherds were more terrified and awed than they were full of celebration.

I feel closest to this true Christmas when I have struggled with bleakness. The house is far more bright and warm and cozy when outside the winter is cold and snowy, and Christmas is purer when the need for a Savior's birth is deeper.

Having struggled (not this whole Christmas season, but parts of it) with feeling disheartened and bleak, this old carol I've never really paid attention to before suddenly came to mind. When I looked up the lyrics I discovered it was a poem written by Christina Rossetti. The first stanza is the one I vaguely remembered, but I was startled to discover the rest of the lyrics, how glorious they are.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air -
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshiped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him -
Give my heart.