A Kingdom of Glorious Splendor

The fresh, woodsy scent of balsam fir fragranced the living room as I hung three new ornaments on our tall, skinny tree. Each ornament came from a royal palace – two in England and one in France. All three were souvenirs of our family’s first summer vacation in Europe – a trip somehow squeezed in between frequent jaunts to the dance studio, the orthodontist and the library.

Visiting a palace is a humbling experience.

Even before you set foot inside, the high gates, uniformed guards and long “cues” remind you that you are one of many foreign tourists, not really a guest.

Inside, massive collections of fine art and treasured possessions join with expensive décor to offer an impressive glimpse into the personal lives of the kings, queens, princes and princesses you read about in history books. Looking at Queen Victoria’s own doll house as we stood in her childhood bedroom, the very room where she was born, was a memorable moment.

In London, Kensington Palace is now home to Prince William and his growing family. And Buckingham Palace is still home to Queen Elizabeth II. But in France, despite its glittery gold gates, grandiose Baroque architecture and expansive gardens, the Palace of Versailles is no longer home to any royalty.

Long gone are King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. Both were beheaded in 1793 when the monarchy was abolished in the French Revolution.

It’s strange indeed to gaze at the king and queen’s magnificently grand lifestyle knowing how terribly their reign ended. The kingdoms of this earth totter and fall.

While touring the homes of kings and queens was fascinating, at some point, no matter how old or fancy it is or who once owned it, stuff is just stuff. No matter how rich or powerful a ruler is, eventually he passes away and leaves it all behind.

This realization could make life seem rather meaningless. But by God’s grace, it instead reinforced for me what is meaningful and made me long for God’s eternal kingdom.

Can I tell you about the glorious splendor of God’s kingdom? First Timothy 6:15 says our God is the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords. Psalm 145 says God’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion endures through all generations. And 1 Peter 2:9 says we who are God’s children are His special possession, chosen and royal.

One glad day the King of kings will welcome His children into His holy palace not as tourists or guests but as adopted sons and daughters. Members of His royal family!

As King David prayed in 1 Chronicles 29:10-13: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is Yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all. In Your hand are power and might, and in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank You, our God, and praise Your glorious name.”

I pray this gives you hope and joy this Christmas. And I pray that God draws you ever closer to Him in 2018. Merry Christmas!



Let Heaven and Nature Sing!

Joy to the world! The Lord has come

Let earth receive her King!

Let every heart prepare Him room

And heaven and nature sing!

Joy to you this Christmas!


Nature sang in 2015 as God blessed us with many memorable outdoor adventures like snowshoeing,

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snow skiing,


ice skating,



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and hiking.


We delighted in God’s amazing creation while watching Trumpeter swans on the Mississippi River,

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spotting dolphins in the wild in the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston,

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feeding wood ducks in the backyard,

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gazing at the gorgeous lilacs

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and the dazzling dahlias at the Arboretum,

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being wowed by a pair of red foxes up on the Gunflint Trail near the Boundary Waters,

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and admiring some of the 18 baby snapping turtles that hatched in our front yard flower bed.

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We tried to subdue some of God’s creatures during our too-close-for-comfort encounters with a snoozing nighthawk,

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bandit raccoons,

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a sleepy bat, an angry squirrel, a peeping goldfinch,

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a topsy-turvey mama snapping turtle, a strong-minded chipmunk and a brave back-to-school mouse that trapped itself inside our basement wall! Eeeek!

We also marveled at God’s wondrous creativity while gazing at the brilliant autumn colors,

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picking juicy apples,

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and plump pumpkins,


and most recently, while picking a lovely-smelling balsam fir tree to decorate for Christmas.



Romans 1:20 says,“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–His eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Nature clearly points to its wise and powerful Creator. And that lighted Christmas tree in my living room, it points heavenward, toward the Light of the World.


It points to Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

May we all join heaven and nature in singing our praises to Him this Christmas and throughout 2016!

Merry Christmas!


A Quiet, Simple Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve and I have time to blog because we have no family visiting this Christmas, and no relatives nearby expecting us for dinner.

Of course family isn’t really what we celebrate at Christmas anyway, as much as we dearly love all those grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins who have decided against braving a frightfully White Christmas in Minnesota.

No, Christmas is about Jesus, celebrating Him and worshiping Him. Sometimes it’s easier to remember that when Christmas is simpler, quieter, and settled comfortably in a picturesque, snowy white background.

Every year our little family of four worships at our church’s 4 p.m. Christmas Eve candlelight service. The girls love getting all dressed up for the evening. Most years my husband participates in the worship band, playing guitar and sometimes singing. This year he also played the mandolin. The music was beautiful. Reverently the service closed, as is tradition, with everyone singing “Silent Night” by candlelight. Seeing my children’s hopeful faces glowing in the candlelight, that’s my favorite gift.

Back at home, with the pot roast still simmering in the slow cooker, the girls endure posing for a few photos.

 And then they ask — for the 100th time today — if they can open presents. They typically exchange gifts with each other on Christmas Eve. Perhaps someday when they are grown and have families of their own, this tradition will continue.

At dinner we light all five of the Advent candles, and the girls eagerly lead our discussion the story of Jesus’s birth. Linnea wonders about all the many details the Bible doesn’t tell us in this ancient story. A deep thought for an 8-year-old.

Once the dinner dishes are cleared, I mix up some bread dough and tuck it under a towel, letting it rise. The girls like to think of the dough as sleeping when it is rising, so they tell it “goodnight” and blow it kisses. I tell the girls it’s almost time for me to tuck them into bed, too. Already sporting their matching striped pink pajamas, they beg for a story. Of course, I was already planning to read one. 

Tonight we read Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck. Written in 1956, the book was a gift given to us last year by my dear friend Kate. And what a lovely story it is about a son who gives his father, a dairy farmer, a gift they both treasure for years to come. Be sure to read this heartwarming tale!

Next my husband reads the story of Jesus’s birth from Luke 2 and Matthew 1. We talk about favorite Christmas memories and the best gifts ever given or received. Then we ponder together what it would have been like to see Jesus as a baby. My husband decides he’d want to see the angels that appeared to the shepherds and the glory of the Lord that shone around them. Five-year-old Laurel is still pretty sure she doesn’t want to have anything to do with angels. (Click here to read about her recent angel trauma.) Will we ever convince her that real angels help protect her?

After prayers comes bedtime for little girls, and then comes stocking stuffing, cinnamon roll rolling and gift arranging for us grown-ups. As the evening closes, the tree boasts way too many gifts beneath its boughs, and all through the house the smell of cinnamon rolls lingers. 

This is our quiet, simple Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas!

Tree Quest 2010

Today’s quest for a Christmas tree felt magical. All the trees were completely laden with snow. Such breathtaking, verdant beauties!

This is the first year we’ve had to shake so much fresh snow off the tree before confirming it was THE one! It was also the first year that my cousin Rachel joined us in the adventure. Thanks for coming, Rae!

Below is a slideshow of my photos from the quest. Merry Christmas!

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O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
Thou bidst us true and faithful be,
And trust in God unchangingly.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!

How It Glistens

The fresh snow on our next-door neighbors’ tree this morning — with a little emphasis added — looks so peaceful.

What a snowfall we’ve had in the last 24+ hours. Of course it comes on a weekend already packed with a piano recital, company party, and church dinner — just to name a few activities. Yet somehow we managed to squeeze in a trip to see the movie Tangled, which was wonderful. We all loved it!

Peace to you this weekend!

“I Knew She’d Love it!”

Linnea knew she’d love it!

The middle of January is drawing near, and I am supposed to be writing my Christmas thank-you notes. Actually, by now I think I am supposed to have already mailed my thank-you notes. 

To be exact, I’ve only put off writing my thank yous on paper until now. I’ve written them in my head over and over! I keep pondering the lovely, heartfelt gifts my family and I received this Christmas, and I feel so loved. Of course, I don’t usually write a note for every single gift I receive, especially if I’ve already thanked the gift-giver in person. But you know how it is. Some gifts are given with such love, thoughtfulness and effort, that you simply must express your gratitude thoroughly in writing! 

Anyone who knows me well knows that gift giving is one of my love languages. It’s how I show loved ones that I know them and care for them and treasure them dearly. 

I knew she'd love it!


I knew she'd love it!


I knew she'd love it!
I knew she'd love it!

 So I suppose the reverse is true to some degree; receiving good gifts is one way I feel loved because it shows that I am known and someone cares for and treasures me, too.

My oldest daughter, Linnea, shares this love language as well. She is constantly giving gifts to me, her father, her sister, and nearly anyone else within reach. She loves to give! And she often gives good gifts: a baby toy for a friend with a new baby, a toy cell phone for her little sister who loves talk and pretend, and a sweet song for her daddy who loves anything musical.  

This Christmas Linnea gave me a beautiful silver bracelet with three shiny silver charms; one says “joy,” which is Linnea’s middle name, another says “hope,” which is Laurel’s middle name, and the third one says, “Mom.” She picked out the charms all by herself, and according to my husband, the store clerk nearly broke down and bawled when Linnea told her the significance of the charms she selected. What a sweetie! 

Also, in her Friday art class, Linnea made me the cutest, most colorful little “pinch pot” with a lid. 

Linnea knew I'd love it!


What a treasure! I store my bracelet and earrings in it every night. 

Did you know that giving good gifts is related to the Golden Rule? In fact, Matthew 7:9-12 says, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” 

Ultimately, the greatest Gift-Giver is God. As James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift if from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” 

So in light of that verse, this is my thank-you note to God for some of the good, perfect and memorable gifts He has graciously given me and for which I am ever so thankful. 

Thank You, Father, for these gifts You knew I’d love. Thank You for… 

1. a smile that reveals what she didn’t for Christmas – teeth 

thank You


2. Christmas doodling by a 4-year-old who just rediscovered markers 

thank You


3. hot tea in a tiny teacup prepared just for me by a very lady-like 7-year-old 

thank You


4. groggy hugs just after naptime from a cuddly 4-year-old 

5. cozy storytimes together with a favorite book and two favorite bears 

thank You


6. warm, delicious home-cooked meals and uplifting conversations shared with very dear friends in Minnesota and in Iowa 

7. gleeful cries near the Advent Calendar day after day 

8. the feel and fragrance of a carefully selected Balsam Fir 

thank You


9. delicate little fingers plinking out “Away in a Manager” on the piano 

thank You


1o. little secrets that slip innocently from the lips of a 4-year-old overjoyed about buying a gift for her daddy 

11. little secrets that are broadcast loudly, yet innocently, from the observant lips of a 4-year-old who likes when packages arrive at the door 

thank You


12. carefully crafted gifts from the creative hands of a 7-year-old 

thank You


13. a deeply heartfelt “Oh, thank you, Mommy!” from a 4-year-old receiving her own copy of a treasured book 

14. the sweet little exchange of gifts between to very loving sisters on Christmas Eve 

thank You


15. the giddy, child-like excitement in a grown man receiving the latest accessory for his guitar  

16. the giddy, child-like excitement of a grown man heading off to pull an ice house onto a frozen lake 

17. the sweet creamy taste of homemade chocolate fudge 

18. the glow of Christmas lights crusted over with snow 

thank You


19. finding and catching up with very dear old friends who live far, far away 

20. and snow falling on snow falling on snow falling on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and many days thereafter 

thank You


I think I hear God saying, “I knew she’d love it!”

Getting in the Christmas Spirit

We’ve been getting in the Christmas spirit around here. Since returning from our action-packed trip south in November (which I promise to post about later), we have:

played outside in the lightly falling snow,

rode a tractor-drawn wagon to hunt for a tree,

found the perfect tree,

smiled about finding the perfect tree,

lighted the perfect tree,

trimmed the perfect tree,

posed for a photo in front of the tree despite questionable nap hair,

hunted for candy canes,

sipped hot chocolate,

guzzled hot chocolate,

served hot chocolate,

taken a horse-drawn wagon ride, which would have been a sleigh ride if it had been AFTER the blizzard,

gotten all dressed up  to go see Cinderella live at the Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis,

endured our first blizzard of the season (sorry, it was way too cold to document with a photograph)

performed “Away in a Manger” on piano at the local nursing home,

and sung “Away in a Manger” for the local nursing home residents.

Whew! It’s no wonder we’re tired!

Christmas Favorites

One week until Christmas, and everything is feeling quite festive here. We’ve set aside the school books for now and are focusing on reading our Christmas favorites and doing ornament crafts. Michael even helped the girls build a ginger bread house a couple nights ago!

Snow globes are Laurel’s Christmas favorite this year, along with candy canes. She just can’t get enough candy canes!

Linnea’s Christmas favorites are my homemade hot rolls and the Nutcracker. Actually both girls are quite fond of anything related to the Nutcracker. It all started last winter when Macy’s Department Store in Minneapolis had a special Christmas display of the Nutcracker. They make a pretty big deal out of their Christmas displays, and it certainly captured the girls’ imaginations. For the longest time, Laurel associated any trip to Minneapolis with the Nutcracker. Even in July, she’d ask if we were going to see the Nutcracker while downtown. It sounded so ridiculous but made perfect sense to her.

Last spring when we signed up with the homeschooling group, I saw that tickets were available for the “Swinging Nutcracker” at Orchestra Hall, so I had to buy them! On Dec. 5 the three of us girls attended the much-anticipated performance with a big homeschooler crowd. We sat in the second row, and the girls were awestruck by the ballerinas and the 95-piece symphony orchestra. It was a lovely production. It felt like it ended entirely too soon. (I’ve seen the full-length ballet twice, so this hour-long performance left me wanting more!) Afterward we met Michael for lunch at Macaroni Grill and then the girls each picked out a Nutcracker at Michael’s craft store.

The next morning we made a frigid trek to get the Christmas tree. It was a bitter cold and windy morning to be outside so long. The temperature was about 15, so we all layered on the snowpants and snow gear. We found a nice tree rather quickly and loaded back onto the tractor-drawn wagon to return to the warm-up area. 

The warm-up area at Z’s Trees (http://www.Zstrees.com) offers free hot apple cider and free peanuts in the shell. Laurel was so hungry and excited that she popped a whole peanut — shell and all — into her mouth and started chewing. I don’t know how long she’d been chewing it when I noticed the puzzled look in her eyes and figured out what was going on in that little mouth of hers. She didn’t need too much prompting to spit the mess out and eat one of the nuts I had cracked for her. Linnea right away made the connection with her new Nutcracker at home and stashed some peanuts to bring home and crack.

Once we recovered from the cold and got the tree home, decorating was a hoot. Both girls totally got in on the action. This was a first for Laurel because last year she was completed distracted by playing with a calculator and somehow missed most of the tree decorating!

After the tree, we set up the nativity, and then Linnea and Laurel spent all their free time playing with it. You can’t imagine all the unconventional visitors baby Jesus has had! Princesses, snowmen, you name it. And all of them evidently have to take naps during their visit. One evening I noticed all the people in the nativity set (plus unconventional visitors) lying down and covered up with little tissue paper blankets. I should have taken a picture! It was priceless.

Tonight while I finished stuffing Christmas letters into envelopes, we watched the “Celtic Woman Christmas” DVD. The girls love the Celtic Women http://www.celticwoman.com/. Laurel watches a few songs and then dashes off to her room to grab a big, fancy dress-up gown of her own. She dances around the living room and tries to sing all the songs at the top of her lungs. Linnea, meanwhile, is fascinated with the violinist on Celtic Woman. She pretends to hold a violin and bow and fiddles along to the music. She sings, too.

This Sunday Linnea will be singing as a choir member in the Christmas production at our church. It is a children’s musical called “A Christmas Carol,” a modern version with some slight similarities to the classic production by Dickens. She is most excited because last night at practice she got to stand next to her newest friend, Lila Selam. Lila is 6 and is from Ethiopia. Lila and her little sister Ella Furtuna were adopted by our close friends Bob and Kate. What a memorable Christmas this will be for their family! You can follow their story at http://romans815.wordpress.com.

We’ve got about 4 inches of snow right now, and the weatherman just said there’s a blizzard warning. We’re supposed to get 8 inches by noon tomorrow, and more after that. The high is 20, so there’s almost no doubt we’ll have a white Christmas! My favorite kind!

Enjoy getting ready for Christmas with those you love!

The perfect tree!
The perfect tree!
The Nutcracker fans.
The Nutcracker fans.
Tree Love
Tree Love
Laurel with her special angel
Laurel with her special angel
Linnea with her special angel
Linnea with her special angel
Playing with the nativity set
Playing with the nativity set

‘Tis the Season to Share the Joys of Christmas!

A close friend of mine e-mailed me this fun little Christmas survey, and I thought I’d share my answers here, too.

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? I use wrapping paper if the gift is rectangular or somehow boxed or being mailed. I use gift bags, too.

2. Real tree or artificial? Now that we have kids, it must be real! And certain body parts should become partially numb in the pursuit of selecting the perfect tree on the farm and cutting it down!

3. When do you put up the tree? the weekend following Thanksgiving

4. When do you take the tree down? shortly after Christmas when it becomes more of a fire hazard

5. Do you like eggnog? No! Give me hot chocolate instead!

6. Favorite gift received as a child? my “Mandy” doll because she came with a doll bed and lots of doll clothes that my mother made for her

7. Do you have a nativity scene? Yes – we have a Fontanini set that my aunt began for us about 10 years ago, and she still adds to it. The figures go in a stable that Michael and I built together several years ago. Also, this year I bought the Fischer Price Little People nativity set for my daughters. They love playing with it! It is fun to watch them bring all sorts of other little toys (cars, dolls, etc.) to “go see baby Jesus!”

8. Hardest person to buy for? It’s a different person every year.

9. Easiest person to buy for? Linnea – there’s so much girly stuff out there for her age, and she loves it all!

10. Worst Christmas gift ever received? concrete blocks wrapped up to look like a big, heavy gift (I think there was a check in the attached envelope, but it was still disappointing to unwrap!)

11. Mail or email Christmas card? mail it!

12. Favorite Christmas Movie? “It’s a Wonderful Life”

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? in the summer or while on vacation; I always try to do the bulk of my Christmas shopping BEFORE Thanksgiving because we end up mailing many gifts out of state

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? sure

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? home-made cinnamon rolls, fudge, chocolate desserts, hot rolls, ham, cranberry sauce, Chex mix, sugar cookies

16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? red or clear but NOT multi-colored

17. Favorite Christmas song? I have two favorites: “The Holly and the Ivy” and “O’ Come, O’ Come, Emmanuel.”

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? stay home out of the snow or go to my aunt’s house nearby

19. Can you name Santa’s reindeer? Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph

20. Do you have an Angel on top or a star? a star on top but lots of angels elsewhere

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? morning, except maybe one gift Christmas Eve

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? greedy people and people who are uptight about calling it “Christmas”

23. Did you believe in Santa when you were little? I did. But it was always a little creepy thinking about some strange guy coming to our house in the middle of the night. We don’t “do” Santa at our house now because it’s confusing and distracting, especially with a December birthday girl in our family!

24. White Christmas or no snow? White Christmas, of course! Those of us who live in Minnesota deserve a white Christmas for all the cold and snow we deal with in fall/winter/spring!

25. What is your Christmas wish for this year? May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!