Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas ... and Some Thoughts

I don't know about anybody else, but Christmas always kind of sneaks up on me and finds me unprepared.  Maybe because here on the edge of the desert where "Christian" things are celebrated only by the minority, it's just easy to forget.  

Some of the big stores have Christmas decorations and extra toys and candy for sale, but that's about all we see of Christmas.  There are no constant advertisements, no decorations all over town, no Santa Clauses ringing bells, no Christmas carols on the radio and oddly enough not even at church, etc.  At the same time, life is busy for us right now and so it just always sneaks up.  I find myself with little energy for doing Christmasy things.  

So I spent most of Christmas Eve doing very un-Christmasy things.  I worked on getting linens and kitchen supplies for a short-termer who is arriving this week. 



also printed his syllabus for him (well, took it to the printer).  I did make bread, and sweet rolls for Christmas breakfast, and I cooked the chicken for our Christmas dinner.  And I wrapped gifts.  We had a super simple supper, nothing special.  And then we went to church.

Usually we have a really big celebration at our church.  Culturally that was hard for me to get used to, but now I really enjoy it.  We start by a Christmas Eve service that usually starts around 8 or 9 and goes until midnight.  Then on Christmas Day we have a three hour service followed by a shared meal.  But our church is going through a hard time right now, so things have been pretty subdued.  The Christmas Eve service started earlier than we thought, so we missed most of it ... we got there at 9:00 and it was over by 10:30. And it was pretty basic without all the extras we usually have. 

Church on Christmas Day was also a much shorter more subdued service than normal and we didn't have any meal afterwards.  The youth (which is mostly university age) did have a meal together because most of them are away from their families during Christmas.  John preached the Christmas message and did a great job.  



He preached on the title that Jesus used for himself:  the Son of Man.  So it was a Christmas that was, understandably, lacking in some of its joy.  But there are times to rejoice and times to mourn and maybe times to find the balance between the two.  I think that's what our Christmas this year was: a balance of mourning and rejoicing.

We have a group of university students who come to our house weekly for a Bible study, so we invited them over for Christmas dinner in the evening.  I made a big pot of curry and we had 12 different toppings to put on it. 



 I also wrapped gifts for each of our guests.  Everybody got a candy bar and a pack of gum and the boys got flashlights and the girls got nail polish. 

 

We watched a movie and sang together. 



 So that was probably the best part of Christmas for us.

On Monday John and I opened our gifts.  I stayed in my flannel pajama pants all day and truly had a day off.



So, I've been thinking about Christmas and what it means.  I really like happy Christmases with lots of family, good food, traditions, and warm fuzzy feelings.  But some Christmases just aren't like that.  Some Christmases, like I said, are a balance between mourning and rejoicing.  And for some people, Christmas is a really sad time as they work through grief, abuse, or loneliness.  

Suzanne wrote on an Instagram post, "This is by far the hardest Christmas I've ever had.  Yet in that, I have found that I was able to focus so much more on the true meaning of Christmas:  a baby born to redeem the world and save us from the sin and brokenness of the world.  Everything about my Christmas was humbling, how much more humbling was a baby born in a barn -- to save the world?!  *a thrill of hope the weary world rejoices*"  Have you noticed how when God brings something to your attention, you start seeing that idea all around you?  Well, soon after I read Suzanne's post, I read on DesiringGod's Instagram:  "If you are suffering this Christmas, you have far more in common with Jesus than the comfortable and contented.  All was not calm, and all was not bright when Jesus was born.  God chose the most painfully humiliating circumstances for the opening scene of his Son's sufferings.  From the beginning of his life, Christ became the living evidence that the hope of God is for the suffering."

So maybe it's ok to have a more subdued Christmas, to contemplate that Jesus' birth brings hope, forgiveness of sins, restoration, and new life, and that that hope was birthed in suffering and in difficulty.  Just think of Mary, suffering excruciating pain, probably alone and definitely far from home.  Think of Joseph pacing the stable while his wife labored to bring her child into the world.  Then Jesus was laid in a manger as the animals looked on, a pretty humbling surrounding.  Soon after the Kings came to offer him gifts (probably a year or two later), all baby boys under two years ended up being killed.  Jesus lived simply, with no place to lay his head and the religious leaders were out to get him.  He was born into a period of history when there was great oppression and civil unrest.  He suffered a cruel, violent death.  But through that suffering was birthed the way to peace and to hope.

Emmanuel, God with us, here with us in our suffering, in our sadness, in our pain.  Wonderful Counselor, speaking to our hearts with understanding, convicting us of sin.  Mighty God, able to forgive our sins and heal our hurts.  Everlasting Father, preparing us for a beautiful, perfect, peace-filled Eternity.  Prince of Peace, bringing peace to the turmoil of our hearts and in the world.

Sadness, yes, but a thrill of hope!  The weary world rejoices.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Happenings in November

Well, here we are, more than half way through December, and I'm just now getting around to telling you about November.  It was a fun, busy, and eventful month.  We were still on vacation and we got in a lot of good family time during the month.

We were still in Ohio with Suz and Theo at the beginning of the month.  Suz and Theo were working hard to get Hezekiah to gain weight.  He kept losing weight for the first few weeks of his life, but he's doing great now.  We tried to spend as much time as possible with Tera so Suzanne could concentrate on adjusting to the new baby ... but mostly just because we wanted to and we enjoy her so much.  





We also tried to get in as many baby snuggles as we could.



Whenever we are in the area, my dad's cousin, Jeanne, invites us for a meal. She is actually closer to me in age than to my dad, so I've always just considered her a cousin and don't try to figure out if she's a second cousin or a first cousin once removed.  Whatever the relationship, we had an enjoyable evening there one night.  She had also invited my sister and her husband, my niece, and another set of cousins.  



We had an unusually warm November, so one day we had a picnic on the front porch.  That was a lot easier than going off to a park, though that would have been fun, too.

 

It was great seeing Suzanne and Theo working together with their kids.  They are doing a fabulous job at parenting.  





One of the warm days we went to the Learning Tree Farm.  This is an interactive farm where kids can actually touch the animals.  They have pigs, sheep, donkeys, cows, ducks, goats, chickens, and, of course, barnyard cats.  Our Tera Girl loves animals so she never gets tired of going to the farm.









Our next stop was Sebring, FL where my parents live.  




We just happened to be there during the election. 

 

My dad is a political guru, so he was a good person to watch it with.  We had some good discussions while we were there.  As this is not a political blog, all I'm going to say is, I wouldn't have been happy with the outcome no matter who won.



We had some good times with Dad and Mom including going out to eat, attending my dad's Sunday School class, and just being with them.  The time there was just way too short.  We have a lot of friends in Sebring since it's our mission's retirement center, so my dad suggested having an open house one afternoon.  It was good to be able to catch up with a lot of people that way.



After Florida, we spent a week in Michigan with Daniel and Kelly.  Unfortunately Kelly and I shared a cold, so we were both feeling a bit miserable.  During our week with them, Suz and Theo, Tera, and Kiah came up for an overnight.  John's brother, Dave and sister-in-law, Debbie, and their four kids came down from Wisconsin the same weekend, so we got to spend some time with them.



Daniel took some time off work to show us around.  We got to see where Daniel works.  



We couldn't visit Kelly's school, but I think that John and Daniel went to see it (outside) while I stayed home on the couch with my kleenex.  We went for a hike along the Huron River, saw downtown Ann Arbor, went to some great used book stores, and ate out. 





Then it was back to Ohio for another week.  One night when we were out we saw a Christmas tree lying by the side of the road, so Theo picked it up and took it home.  We helped them decorate it.  



My nephew, Jeremiah, and his wife Heather were in town from Colorado, so my sister had us over to her house one night for supper.  We actually got together with them a number of times which was great.



We had time for more baby snuggles.



And some Christmas baking.



That week included Thanksgiving.  Our nephew, Seth DeValve, plays for the Cleveland Browns, so his family had rented a house in Cleveland.  His parents and brothers and their families came from CT, MO, TX, and NC.  John's brother in WI came down and another brother lives in Cleveland.  So everybody but John's mom was able to be there!  When we came on vacation we didn't expect that we'd get in on such a big family gathering!  



Suzanne and her cousin, Jacob, are only three weeks apart and their sons are two months apart.  Why yes, that would be spit up because that's what babies do. :)



The day after Thanksgiving, Daniel and Kelly came back down to Ohio and we had a family Christmas.  We had hors d'oeuvres for supper and exchanged gifts.  Tera helped everybody open theirs.  And Hezekiah got his first ever Christmas gifts.








The very next day we said our sad goodbyes and headed for Pennsylvania where we spent the night with our good friends, Ed and Sharon.  



The next day we got to go to our supporting church, which is the church we attend most when we are on home assignment.  Later that day we drove to Connecticut where we spent our last week with John's mom.



And now it's back to the craziness that's our lives here.  We are super busy, me with work and John on his doctorate.  The end is in sight and deadlines are looming.  In the meantime, he is really involved in a stressful situation at our church.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Book List from November


November was vacation, but it wasn't a sitting around on the beach sort of vacation, so I didn't get as much read as one might do on vacation.  

The first book I finished was called The Fringe Hours:  Making Tme for You by Jessica N. Turner.  On the airplane safety instructions, parents are told that if a loss of cabin pressure occurs they should place their own oxygen mask before helping their children with theirs. In the same way in other aspects of life, we are less likely to be good carers of those around us if we don't take care of ourselves.

But who has time for caring for themselves? Jessica Turner helps us find ways to identify "fringe hours" to use for self-care. At first I thought the book would be all about me, me, me, but she keeps things quite balanced between caring for one's self and serving others. She does a great job of showing how women spend so much time comparing themselves to others that they waste time doing things they don't even care about just so they can be like others. One of the first ways to find "fringe time" is to quit doing things out of a feeling of guilt or false expectations. She also reminds us to spend time with our Father, though she did seem a little weak in this area. She also brought out how we should be more pro-active in asking for help and in making sure we rest well.

One thing I didn't really like is that she tries to encourage us to not have to be super moms, but she comes across as one. I honestly don't know how she does everything she does. And I think her examples from her life are meant to be examples, not the way it has to be done. But for those of us who don't have her energy level, this book can make us feel inadequate. Still, as she says, you do find time for what you want to do.

I think this would be a helpful book for anybody who needs to to eliminate some activities and spend that time caring for themselves. I personally was helped to find some things I could cut back on or eliminate or manage better.

The second book was called Crucial Conversations:  Tools for Talking when Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler.  Our admin team has been reading this book together and it's extremely helpful!  If you've ever found yourself in a conversation where opinions vary, stakes are high, and emotions run strong, this book is for you!  Some difficult conversations are not that hard to have because you can stay detached and don't have strong emotions about the subject, or you're not friends with the person anyway so if they end up hating you it's not such a big deal.  But more often than not conversations come up at home, among friends, or in the workplace where opinions vary (strongly!), stakes are high, and emotions run strong.

Each of us tends to react in these situations in one of two ways:  silence or violence.  In silence, we may stay in the room, but we're done contributing to the conversation or we may even leave the room.  In violence, we begin to make snide remarks, to lose our temper, to slam doors, and maybe even go so far as the use of actual physical violence.  The authors show how to recognize your default reaction, how to recognize when others are moving into their default reaction, and how to rescue the conversation so that all involved can continue to contribute to the pool of meaning.

There is a lot of information in this book and it would be nice to be able to flip through the book and find the right tools to use when having a crucial conversation.  Of course, in the middle of a crucial conversation it doesn't really work to say, "Wait until I figure out what I'm supposed to do next."  But as the authors say at the end of the book even if you only remember a few things and learn to use them you will have become a better communicator.  I highly recommend this book!

The final book I actually finished on December 2, but I'm throwing it in with the November books.  And this way you'll know I don't read only serious books. :)  The third book was called And Promises to Keep by Ann Tatlock.  

The story is told from the point of view of a young girl.  Her mother had escaped an abusive relationship with the girl's father.  She also had an older step brother and a baby sister.  Roz is crushed by her parent's separation.  She recognizes that her father is abusive, but she also knows he loves her.  I'll not tell you more about the story as I don't want to give it away.

Ann Tatlock is one of my favorite authors.  She makes her characters feel real -- nobody is impossibly beautiful or perfect.  They lose their tempers with each other, they hurt each other, they love each other, and they figure out how to work things out. As Roz says, "If I was going to survive in this world, I had to understand that not everything I wanted to be true was true, and not everything that looked good was good." Ms. Tatlock has written several books that involve cross-cultural or cross-racial relationships and this book is no exception.  

I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

New Adventures in Travel

Usually when we travel we have the sorts of adventures that you'd really rather not have ... like sitting IN the airplane first at the gate and then on the runway for SIX hours and the flight itself was seven hours, so 13 hours in one plane (I know, I know, my Aussie friends do that all the time).  Or having your luggage not show up and when it does the camera that you had bought for your daughter's birthday had been stolen out of it.  

But this time we had two kind of fun things happen that we'd never had before.

When we fly out of JFK in New York, our final stop is usually Connecticut.  From Hartford we can catch "the Connecticut limo" service.  



We always joke because it's never been a limo.  Once it was a small bus and the other times it was a van.  So when we were standing outside the station in Hartford, there was a limo parked down the line-up.  I jokingly said to John, "Look!  There's our limo!"  and he said, "Yeah, right."  Neither of us in a million years really thought it was there for us.  After a few minutes the driver got up and came up to us and asked if we were going to JFK.  Sure enough, the limo was for us!  There was only one other passenger, so it felt like our own private limo.  It was pretty fun, but I think if you packed an entire party of over five people in there it would feel pretty crowded.  This picture of John is blurry, but it's my proof that we did ride in a limo. 

 

That was a first for both of us.

The other new adventure for us was flying in an Airbus-380.  That's the huge double-decker airplane produced by Airbus.  We were in Row 47 which was almost the back of the plane (I think there were 52 or 53 rows).  There were three seats - aisle- four seats - aisle - three seats.  We have no idea what the upstairs looked like!  There were also first class seats down stairs, but I think most first class and business class were upstairs. 

In New York, waiting to board

This was the quietest plane we've ever been on.  The engine noise was greatly reduced compared to other planes and it seemed like even the noise other passengers made was less (maybe partly because they didn't need to talk so loud to be heard!).  The ride was incredibly smooth.  We did feel the turbulence, I think because we were in the back, but we were basically unaware when the plane even started to move down the runway.  The landing wasn't the smoothest, though! There was a video camera mounted on the tail of the plane and you could watch the take-off and landing on the screen which was pretty cool.  As we were landing we could see on the screen that he was banking the plane, but you couldn't even feel that.  Our seats were right in the middle of the middle section which I didn't like ... but I don't like that on any flight.  My favorite is to have a window. And we were thankful for what we got because at first it looked like we wouldn't even be able to sit together.

After landing in Paris.  We took off in the dark and landed just at dawn.



And that is the end of our vacation.  I will probably do a little resume of the month of November, but tomorrow it's back to work.  We'll be struggling with jet lag this week, so please pray for us to get back in the schedule quickly!  

Somebody was happy to have us home. 

Friday, December 02, 2016

Grandbaby Quilt #2

My mom made a quilt for me when I headed off to college.  It was so warm and heavy and I had it on my bed my college years.  I still keep it in storage and every time we are home in the winter I pull it out.  I don't know if she made one for my brother and sister or not, but I do know she made one for each of her grandchildren.

So, I decided to carry on the tradition.  I made one for Tera which Suzanne uses as the backdrop for Tera's monthly photos.  I wanted to make one for Hezekiah, but I sure had some challenges with it!  I bought the cloth before I knew what gender he would be and lucked out on that as I had gone with blue (aqua) as I knew that would match the nursery.  



looked up some quilt patterns on Pinterest and other places on the internet and narrowed it down to two I liked.  

My sewing machine wasn't working right, so I decided I would cut the pieces ahead of time and then sew them at Suzanne's house.  



But of course I procrastinated and the week before leaving Niger I was still trying to figure out what size to cut the quilt blocks.  I had a pattern, but no directions to be found anywhere on the internet!  I told John I couldn't figure it out, so he said to give him some time to think about it.  He was doing dishes and figured out an algebraic formula in his head while he was working.  Within 10 minutes we had it all figured out.  




I got the pieces all cut out ahead of time and sewed them at Suzanne's house in the afternoons when Tera was napping. 

 

But I got to the last piece and realized I hadn't cut enough pieces!  So I sent a message to my neighbor, Beka.  She went in our house and found the cloth and sent it with somebody who was traveling to the USA and who mailed it to me here.  I got it just in time to finish it.



I googled "baby quilt sizes" for both Tera's and Kiah's quilts and look at the different sizes of the two quilts.  I hope Tera doesn't grow up thinking I love Kiah more because until I laid the two quilts on the floor, I thought they were the same!





I had some issues with the sewing machine and don't know enough to have been able to figure it out, so don't look too closely at the sewing!