Whiter than Snow

Reposting from the deep down in the archives… Happy Good Friday and Happy Easter!

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Except for a few small patches, nearly all of the snow that had been covering our lawn since Dec. 1, 2007, melted earlier this week. We all rejoiced to be finally rid of that old snow; it had turned ugly and gray over the last three months.

On Wednesday Linnea was able to ride her bicycle and play outside all afternoon. Laurel blew bubbles and scooted around on her trike. Neighbors we hadn’t seen in months came up the street to chat. The hope of spring that had sustained us through this long, bitter winter was finally becoming a reality!

But today it’s a different story. It’s Good Friday and the first full day of spring according to the calendar. But just like Jesus’ disciples felt on Good Friday, we’re feeling confused and discouraged. It’s snowing. Actually, it’s blizzarding. We must have nearly six inches of fluffy white stuff out there right now, and it’s still piling up! We’ve lost a little hope.

So what does snow have to do with Good Friday? After David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan came to him and encouraged him to repent of his sins. David wrote Psalm 51, and in verse 7 he says to God, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”

Likewise, Isaiah 1:18 says “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

All week I’ve been reminding Linnea and Laurel that Easter isn’t about brightly colored eggs or tasty chocolate bunnies. It’s about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. It’s about Jesus paying the blood sacrifice so that we, like David, can be made whiter than snow.

So even in the midst of a March blizzard, we still have hope. We have hope that spring will arrive and the rain will wash away our snow. The grass will reappear and turn green. The birds will return. The trees will bud and the flowers will bloom.

Though our hope for spring may come and go, our hope in Jesus will continue. He cleanses us and gives us a fresh new beginning. He will not disappoint us. He is risen indeed!

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!

A Glorious Peace!

Merry Christmas!

The remarkably polished Minnesota Orchestra was performing “Evening Prayer” from Hansel and Gretel when some questionable subjects slowly crept into sight. The first one appeared on stage and then two more, and then another two began slinking mysteriously down each aisle of Orchestra Hall.

Only a moment earlier the conductor had cheerfully announced that we were in for a fantastic treat: puppets from In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre in Minneapolis.

These larger-than-life puppets – some towering near 12-feet tall – masqueraded as angels. However, two of these so-called angels had deer heads, and two had squirrel heads. In their dream pantomime, they quietly kept watch over Hansel and Gretel as the children peacefully slept all alone, deep in the dangerous forest.

For our very sensitive 5-year-old Laurel, seeing these enormous puppet angels dwelling among us was certainly no fantastic treat. Rather than peace, they brought trouble. At first sight of them, Laurel shrieked in utter terror, hid under her coat, and then sobbed uncontrollably for the rest of the performance. Her daddy sat beside her, attempting to quiet and comfort her, but feeling trapped and helpless.

Fear Not!

The puppet angels truly terrified Laurel. And they did look exceptionally sinister.  They not only broke the rules by having animal heads and sneaking in unexpectedly from the back of the hall, but also they failed to announce what all Biblical angels know is the first order of business when appearing to humans. You already know the line: “Do not be afraid!” or “Fear not!”

Real-live angels must be quite terrifying, too. Remember the shepherds – those burly tough guys who weren’t afraid to take on any lions or bears that threatened their sheep? Even they were terrified by the angel that appeared to them and by the glory of the Lord shining around them that night when our Savior arrived.

The first angel the shepherds saw had a mission of utmost significance: to proclaim good news of great joy. Peace on earth! The Savior of the world had just been born!

One must be calm to be able to listen to such a meaningful message. That’s why the angel had to calm the shepherds with his words, “Do not be afraid.”

The spoken word is such a powerful thing – and even more so when it’s the Word of God. Clearly these words calmed the shepherds, as they soon heard the angel’s message of peace and then found the baby Jesus.

Imagine the rush of wings as a whole crowd of angels then came into sight, all praising God together and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

Find Peace

That said, Christmastime should be peaceful, right? Yet isn’t it hard to find peace when so many distractions masquerade as necessary to our Christmas celebration? Like giant puppets, distractions can trouble us and sometimes even make us want to hide under our coats.

But we have an ever-present heavenly Father – One who is always able to quiet us and comfort us in times of trouble. He is mighty to save!

We genuinely find peace when we, like the shepherds, fix our eyes on Jesus, gaze upon His divine excellence, and behold the glory of the Lord. His glory is shining all around us, too, when we look for it and let it transform us.

In the song “Everything Glorious,” David Crowder sings, “My eyes are small but they have seen the beauty of enormous things… From glory to glory, You [Jesus] are glorious. You make everything glorious, and I am Yours. What does that make me?”

We pray you embrace true peace this Christmas and throughout the new year, and we pray you join us in fixing our eyes upon Jesus and allowing Him to transform us. May our small eyes see the beauty of enormous things in 2011!

From glory to glory, He is glorious!

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!

Thanksgiving Storytime

re-posted from last fall

“In everything give thanks.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Tomorrow I have the honor of leading our homeschool group’s preschool storytime at the library, and this month’s theme — just in time for Thanksgiving — is thankfulness and contentment.

In my research and preparation for storytime, I keep coming across the “Five Kernels” tradition in various places. I’ve never heard of it before, but it’s a simple and meaningful little tradition that I plan to incorporate this year in our family’s Thanksgiving meal.

The Five Kernels tradition is based on the Pilgrim’s “starving time” during the spring of 1623. Some say all that was left to eat was five kernels of corn a day for each person. Likewise, the tradition is to put five kernels of corn on each plate at the beginning of the Thanksgiving meal. One by one, each person gives thanks to God for five specific blessings, puts the kernels in a basket, and passes the basket to the next person.

I’m also going to give this a whirl during storytime, but we may just do two or three kernels since the audience is so young.

Of course storytime will feature some great lessons on thankfulness, too! We’ll read about God providing bread, quail and water for the Israelites (in Mighty Acts of God). We’ll also read about a discontent little bird, Gertrude McFuss, one of the “other” stories in Dr. Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle. At the end, everyone will get one feather to take home.

Storytime will also feature Lydia Maria Child’s classic Thanksgiving poem, “Over the River and Through the Wood,” and Laurie Berkner’s song, “I’m Going to Eat on Thanksgiving Day.”

Easter Thoughts

I’m knee-deep into a feature story I’m writing this week before Holy Week, but my brain needs a quick break from all things beef-retail-related. So I thought I’d escape by sharing some random thoughts about Easter.

I love Easter, and one tradition we added a few years ago is telling the passion story with the help of resurrection eggs from ChristianBook.com. (With a little work, you can also make your own.) Our daughters really look forward to opening each egg. I took the eggs to church last year and opened them with my Pre-K/K Sunday School class, and they also were captivated by what was inside.

A few weeks ago I purchased a new Easter book called The Sparrow’s Easter Song, which we’ve already read a few times. It’s a wonderfully written and illustrated story about a sparrow who witnesses Jesus’s death and resurrection and tells all the other animals about it.

Another favorite Easter book just for kids is The Parable of the Lily  by Liz Curtiz Higgs. It paints a beautiful picture of forgiveness and is especially fitting for little girls.

Linnea, Laurel and I are working through a book/music CD called Passion Hymns for a Kid’s Heart to help them learn some of my favorite Easter hymns. This week they’ve been learning “Up From the Grave He Arose,” which has such a lively tune. Hearing it brings me right back to the pews of the Methodist church where I grew up.

I also have a new favorite Easter hymn, one I just learned last year. It’s “Jesus Paid It All,” and I absolutely love this version of it by Kristian Stanfill. You will, too! (Side note: This hymn is not one of those included in the book Passion Hymns for a Kid’s Heart.)

Also, just for fun, check out my cute little snow bunnies in the Good Friday post I wrote two years ago: Whiter Than Snow. They’ve grown so much even since last Easter!