A Nativity Telling

christmas poster 1 cropped

The Cornerstone children and I sharing the Christmas poster during yesterday’s service

Merry Christmas, everyone! I made a script for this telling a few weeks ago (from Luke 1 & 2 and Matthew 1) and shared it first at the 2nd Annual Walk Across the Street Christmas Celebration, held at Christ Tabernacle Church, right here in my own neighborhood of Austin in Chicago!!

I’ve told it a couple times since, and I thought I would share it with you. It’s a long one–about 10 minutes–but oh, what a wonderful story. After so many years of silence, God broke in, with one angelic appearance after another, with each one beginning with those very needed words, “DON’T BE AFRAID!!!”

It’s an amazing story. I hope this telling makes it fresh and new for you.

Blessings, everyone.

Jen

Advertisements

our upside-down King

The children are doing the Gospel reading tomorrow, and we’ve taken Luke’s telling of the Nativity and broken it into narration and dialogue.

We practiced today, and before we began, I told them they were the perfect ones to tell this upside-down story of an upside-down King ushering in his upside-down kingdom.

Kings generally want power and riches and comfort, I said.

But Jesus, King of the universe, kept saying things like, “I came to serve” and “I offer my life,” and his first bed was a feeding trough for animals and his first sight as a human was a poor girl’s face and maybe, if any of the nativity scenes are correct, the giant nose of a cow. The fancy presents didn’t appear till later and they came just in time to fund a run-for-your-literal-life escape to Egypt.

I finished my pretty speech, and one child raised his hand.

“Yes?” I told him, and he asked, “Can I have a big part?”

And I grinned at this unabashed display of human nature, so straight-up contrary to all the words I’d just spoken—because it was oh, so honest! And oh, so real!

Then we began, and though the rehearsal was chock-full of loud boys and stumbled lines, and missed cues,

And there was no strong sense that tomorrow would go off without a hitch or three,

There were some moments of deep beauty,

And when it was over, I could tell a child, with genuine sincerity,

“You are supposed to be Elizabeth, because when you held that baby doll oh, so gently, it did something to my heart.”

I could shrug and laugh when asked, “Well, how do you think they will do tomorrow?”

Because the upside-down-ness of the Kingdom must be embraced, despite all our tendencies to do otherwise.

If we’d planned the Nativity, it certainly wouldn’t have taken place in a stable, with rough-and-tumble shepherds as its witnesses (and if God had insisted they play a large part, at least they would have bathed). We would have had the wise men come that first night to provide some glitz and sparkle—wait, we do that!—some importance and sophistication to the occasion…

It’s a challenge to stay upside-down, to say, like Mary, “Let it be … just as the Lord has said,” to be emboldened, like the shepherds with their uncultured ways and uneducated language, to share the crazy story even when it doesn’t seem like we’re the best, most polished messengers.

So read tomorrow, children.

Tell.

Proclaim.

As upside-down messengers

Of the King laid in the manger,

the King nailed to the cross.

Our right-side-up God.

 

Gifts that give back, 2016

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

Lettering by Em click on the link to visit my daughter Em’s Etsy store

Next Tuesday is “Giving Tuesday,” did you know? The link takes you to a Youtube video that explains why Giving Tuesday was created to follow Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I thought today–before Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the day before THANKSgiving–would be a great day to post my annual “gifts that give back” post. More and more we have the opportunity to give gifts that give twice: to the recipient AND to a ministry that practices Biblical generosity. If you have already completed all your Christmas shopping, then this post isn’t for you, but if you’re just starting to think about it (I’m in this camp!), then I hope to give you some good ideas in this post.

And if you have other ideas, please leave a comment and tell me about them! I’d love to hear and share other opportunities to give gifts that give back. Feel free to share this list with others.

GENERAL GIVING

You can use Amazon.com’s Smile program and choose a charity to receive a portion of your purchase price. (Mine is locked in at Compassion International currently, but there are thousands on Amazon’s list.) The link above gives more info, and this program is not just for the holiday season but operates all year.

FOR THE TEENS/PRETEENS IN YOUR LIFE–OH, AND FOR EVERYONE ELSE, TOO!

Check out www.mudlove.com and Bel Kai.

MudLOVE, based in Winona Lake, Indiana (home of my wonderful in-laws and my alma mater, Grace College), sells made-on-site clay bracelets, necklaces, mugs, and more. The most popular version is stamped with a word or phrase, and you can even custom order a word or phrase that has particular meaning to you. Twenty percent of each purchase goes to provide clean water in Africa, and $5 spent provides an African with clean drinking water for a year. My girls (ages 12, 16, 17, and 19) ALL love them. (Honestly, I do, too!)

Bel Kai, which sells beautiful handmade jewelry, is another company that gives-back, and when the creator of MudLOVE married the creator BelKai, their shop Belove was created. Great story (check it out at the Bel Kai link above) and just as great products!

BIG-TICKET BEAUTY

Hand and Cloth sells gorgeous, one-of-a-kind blankets made from used saris by women rescued from the slave trade in Bangladesh. I’ve featured this ministry before on my blog (https://journeytojen.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/blankets-handmade-by-women-women-handmade-by-god/).  These are perfect buys for the person who appreciates beautiful, handmade artisan items (hmm—maybe that describes you yourself!). They start at $98 dollars and go up to around $200. Check out the blankets at the website—which itself is beautiful—and read their story while you are there. “Blankets handmade by women. Women handmade by God.” Wonderful work! (They also have stockings–each one unique! So cool!)

Renew Project and Loom are both incredible ministries. Renew is based in Chicago’s western suburbs and trains and employs refugee women who have been re-settled in the area to make beautiful items from recycled textiles. Bags, baby items, tablecloths, etc., and their work is incredible (these women are artisans!). Best of all, each purchase helps a refugee woman thrive in her new home. At Loom, which is much like Renew but based on the north side of Chicago, “women from Iraq, Bhutan, Congo and Afghanistan gather together weekly to produce beautiful handmade products designed in collaboration with local Chicago designers. Women have the opportunity to create, market and sell their products as an additional source of income for their families. Training focused on financial literacy and necessary skills associated with savings and earnings is offered to each of the women. As a result of this social enterprise, women who have fled war and violence from all over the world have the opportunity to work together in Chicago, learn new skills, produce beautiful handmade products, earn an income, and be a part of a community of creative and enterprising women.”

SIX FOR WOMEN AT RISK

If you want something other than blankets made by women rescued from the slave trade, visit WAR International. The acronym WAR, standing for Women at Risk, was started in 2006. You can find jewelry, accessories, home décor, and children’s items made by women in 13 countries, including the United States.

Narimon employs women rescued out of the sex industry in Bangkok, Thailand. the woman make beautiful jewelry, handbags, and some clothing at The Well, where the women not only work but are ministered to. Narimon is the products division of Servantworks. Seriously, their work is beautiful.

Jo’el Worldwear‘s website says this: “We support artisans and fashion designers affected by wars / conflicts, human trafficking / slavery, refugee status and other economically challenging situations. We honour those who teach, inspire and help develop these professionals to success.”

Sseko (what a cool name) Designs was started by Liz Bohannon. Read this great article about her and her business at Relevant Magazine–and shop here, too! Their tie sandals are awesome, but they’ve now branched out to bags, clothing items, scarves, etc.

Noonday Collection and Trades of Hope both offer beautiful fair trade items (primarily jewelry, scarves, bags, etc.) made by women artisans in developing countries. Great businesses, great products, great stories. I have friends involved in both of these businesses, and they are passionate about their work and what it is providing for other women around the globe. I encourage you to check out their websites.

LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING

Need to shop for kids, men, women—want to spend a little for this one, more for that one? Go to www.tenthousandvillages.com. Gorgeous jewelry, decorative items, and woven/knitted items for women; toys and games for children; even things like chess sets, bookends, and bicycle-chain frames for men. Their website is very easy to navigate and has some very helpful tools. If you click on the “gift ideas” tab at the top of the page, you can shop for holiday items, for men, women, or children, or by type of item.  You can spend a little (items as low as $4) or a lot. They also have shops (there is one in Glen Ellyn, IL) across the U.S. You can find a shop locater on the website.

Feed My Starving Children (a ministry that provides food packs for ministries around the world) has a pretty extensive marketplace as well. Some great offerings here, from a fantastic ministry that supports so many.

FOR THE COFFEE LOVERS

Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Company has “Drink Coffee. Do Good” as its motto. It started with farmers in Rwanda (the founder saw the effects of the genocide and had to do SOMETHING) and now works with farmers in Haiti and Thailand as well. They sell 100% Arabica, fairly traded, fresh roasted coffee. They sell ground, whole bean, and decaf, teas, and coffee accessories.

I Have a Bean “was created for a purpose–to positively impact the lives of post-prison men and women, their families, and the communities in which we live.” This business employs post-prison men and women. If you’re in the Wheaton area, drop in their store on Fridays for free coffee and a chat with their awesome staff!

If you’re in Chicago’s western suburbs, drop in at River City Roasters in Wheaton (if you’re not, you can visit them virtually) and pick up a few bags of their direct-trade blends, which River City Roasters roasts themselves. Sometimes they also have their Venture blend, which supports Venture Corp (www.entertheventure.com), a small nonprofit started by some young friends of ours. Each bag purchased helps support two wonderful ministries in Africa. (I am privileged to have met both Mary and Ronnie, the leaders of the two ministries Venture supports.) Speaking of Venture, you can visit its website and support its ministries through buying beautiful Ugandan necklaces. Just click on the “enter the venture” link above.

LOOKING FOR HANDCRAFTED CROCHETED ITEMS–AND MORE?

My husband just told me about this one, and I checked it out and love their website. What a great story! A group of high school guys learned to crochet simply because they wanted unique ski hats on the local slopes. Others dubbed them the Krochet Kids. Long story short (if you want to know the whole thing, visit the website), they taught these skills to women in northern Africa and then Peru, and they sell these handmade items at www.krochetkids.org. Each item carries with it the signature of the woman who crocheted it, and you can visit the website to learn her story. They’ve also branched out and now offer several ethically-made clothing and accessory items as well.

AND, FINALLY, FOR THE PERSON WHO HAS EVERYTHING

Buy them a goat—bet they don’t have that. Seriously, go to World Vision or Compassion or Open Doors USA or International Justice Mission or Kids Alive (the links take you directly to their online gift catalogs). The first two have items like school supplies, ducks, and clean-water wells–and goats! Open Doors has items that are specific to the needs of the persecuted church worldwide, and IJM allows you to pay for trauma counseling or legal representation for those suffering injustice. You can honor someone with your gift, and that person will receive a card telling about your gift and what it will accomplish. If you want to keep the idea of giving in front of you this season, request that a print gift catalog from either World Vision or Compassion be sent to you. It’s a fantastic tool to use with kids during this season when they are constantly faced with advertisements that fool them into thinking that their “wants” are actually “needs.”

ANY OTHER IDEAS???

If you have other ideas, please leave a comment and share! I’d love to hear and share other opportunities to give gifts that give back. Feel free to share this list with others.

Thanks for reading! I sure enjoyed pulling the list together.

The Nativity Wars (a re-post)

DSC_0180

Besides the five nativities with movable figures, I also have several small, fixed nativity ornaments or sets. Here are two of my favorites (plus a star) that I have hanging on my bamboo plant next to my kitchen sink (I haven’t managed to kill it yet!). My sister bought the dark wood ornaments for me in Africa, and the Peruvian carved gourd nativity is from Ten Thousand Villages.

 

Along with a tree, our family decorates our house for Christmas with lots of Christmas books and five nativity sets: one I received as a child, painted by my grandmother; three others Dave and I received for our Christmastime wedding more than twenty years ago; and one that the twins’ Sunday School teacher gave them when they were in first grade.

The girls or I arrange them just-so, in careful semi-circles so all their faces can be seen…

And then we wait for the nativity wars to begin.

The first attack this year is sneaky. I don’t even see it happen. I walk through the dining room and notice a clump, not a semi-circle, of figures on top of the piano.

He’s been at it, I think.

I check the others. Two of the remaining four have been rearranged.

I put them back in semi-circles, but just a few hours later they are all huddled together again, a crowd rather than a scene.

We all love our nativities.

But son Jake likes them arranged a little differently than anyone else.

So every year we do “battle” during the Christmas season.

We start out with sneak attacks, but pretty soon it becomes open warfare.

But we’d never talked about why he liked his arrangement–we just thought it was one of Jake’s quirks–until a few years ago.

A longtime, long-distance friend was visiting during early December. She noticed the crowded nativity on the kitchen counter and began to rearrange it. I noticed what she was doing and laughed.

“It won’t stay that way.”

“What?”

“Pretty soon Jake will come in here and push them all together again.”

“Why?”

And, suddenly, it hit me, the why. I couldn’t understand why I’d never seen it before.

“Because he wants them all close to Jesus, that’s why.” I was stating my revelation more than answering her question.

I tested my theory later that day.

“J-man, why do you like all the figures clumped like that? We can’t see their faces when you put them that way.”

His tone made it clear he was almost surprised by my reasoning. “But they can’t see Jesus when they’re all spread out.”

Aah!

After all, what’s more important—that we see their faces or that they see Jesus?

It’s a busy, busy season, and we tend to get a little caught up with the celebration of it—and, often, with how others see us celebrate it.

But what’s more important—that they see us or that we see Jesus?

So gather as close as you can, crowd into Him, stretch high on tiptoes, do whatever you need to do to fix your gaze on HIM.

Because not only is that the absolute best for us, it’s also when others get glimpses of Him, too. When we press close to Jesus they want to see what we’re so excited to see. In our wonder and awe, they catch some of the fascination of Christ’s love for us.

From glory, He put on flesh—such limitation!—and then “humbled Himself…” to “death on a cross.”

All for love!

All for us!

 

II Corinthians 8:9 “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.”

Note 1: I first wrote this several years ago, but I love posting it at Christmastime. We still continue the nativity wars at our house, but we let Jake win!

Note 2: Ten Thousand Villages has many beautiful nativities (from small ornaments to large sets). They make wonderful Christmas gifts! The link above takes you to a page with JUST nativities on it.

Annual Gifts-that-Give-Back post

Today is “Giving Tuesday,” did you know? The link takes you to a Youtube video that explains why Giving Tuesday was created to follow Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I thought today would be a great day to post my annual “gifts that give back” post. More and more we have the opportunity to give gifts that give twice: to the recipient AND to a ministry that practices Biblical generosity. If you have already completed all your Christmas shopping, then this post isn’t for you, but if you’re just starting to think about it (I’m in this camp!), then I hope to give you some good ideas in this post.

GENERAL GIVING

You can use Amazon.com’s Smile program and choose a charity to receive a portion of your purchase price. (Mine is locked in at Compassion International currently, but there are thousands on Amazon’s list.) The link above gives more info, and this program is not just for the holiday season but operates all year.

FOR THE TEENS/PRETEENS IN YOUR LIFE–OH, AND FOR EVERYONE ELSE, TOO!

Check out www.mudlove.com, Bel Kai, and Belove.

MudLOVE, based in Winona Lake, Indiana (home of my wonderful in-laws and my alma mater, Grace College), sells made-on-site clay bracelets, necklaces, mugs, and more. The most popular version is stamped with a word or phrase, and you can even custom order a word or phrase that has particular meaning to you. Twenty percent of each purchase goes to provide clean water in Africa, and $5 spent provides an African with clean drinking water for a year. My girls (ages 11, 15, 16, and 18) ALL love them. (Honestly, I do, too!)

Bel Kai, which sells beautiful handmade jewelry, is another company that gives-back, and when the creator of MudLOVE married the creator BelKai, Belove was created. Great story (check it out at the Bel Kai link above) and just as great products!

BIG-TICKET BEAUTY

Hand and Cloth sells gorgeous, one-of-a-kind blankets made from used saris by women rescued from the slave trade in Bangladesh. I’ve featured this ministry before on my blog (https://journeytojen.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/blankets-handmade-by-women-women-handmade-by-god/).  These are perfect buys for the person who appreciates beautiful, handmade artisan items (hmm—maybe that describes you yourself!). They start at $98 dollars and go up to around $200. Check out the blankets at the website—which itself is beautiful—and read their story while you are there. “Blankets handmade by women. Women handmade by God.” Wonderful work! (They also have stockings–each one unique! So cool!)

Renew Project is an incredible ministry. Based in my area (Chicago’s western suburbs), it trains and employs refugee women to make beautiful items from recycled textiles. Bags, baby items, tablecloths, etc., and their work is incredible (these women are artisans!). Best of all, each purchase helps a refugee woman thrive in her new home.

SIX FOR WOMEN AT RISK

If you want something other than blankets made by women rescued from the slave trade, visit WAR International. The acronym WAR, standing for Women at Risk, was started in 2006. You can find jewelry, accessories, home décor, and children’s items made by women in 13 countries, including the United States.

Narimon employs women rescued out of the sex industry in Bangkok, Thailand. the woman make beautiful jewelry, handbags, and some clothing at The Well, where the women not only work but are ministered to. Narimon is the products division of Servantworks. Seriously, their work is beautiful.

www.stoptraffickfashion.com has t-shirts, jewelry, and totes/bags made from recycled materials. Many of their t-shirts express the heart of the women who run this website. One with a barcode also has the logo “People are not products” and several sport the logo “free.loved.radiant.”

Sseko (what a cool name) Designs was started by Liz Bohannon. Read this great article about her and her business at Relevant Magazine–and shop here, too! Their tie sandals are awesome, but they’ve now branched out to bags, clothing items, scarves, etc.

Noonday Collection and Trades of Hope both offer beautiful fair trade items (primarily jewelry, scarves, bags, etc.) made by women artisans in developing countries. Great businesses, great products, great stories. I have friends involved in both of these businesses, and they are passionate about their work and what it is providing for other women around the globe. I encourage you to check out their websites.

LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING

Need to shop for kids, men, women—want to spend a little for this one, more for that one? Go to www.tenthousandvillages.com. Gorgeous jewelry, decorative items, and woven/knitted items for women; toys and games for children; even things like chess sets, bookends, and bicycle-chain frames for men. Their website is very easy to navigate and has some very helpful tools. If you click on the “gift ideas” tab at the top of the page, you can shop for holiday items, for men, women, or children, or by type of item.  You can spend a little (items as low as $4) or a lot. They also have shops (there is one in Glen Ellyn, IL) across the U.S. You can find a shop locater on the website.

FOR THE COFFEE LOVERS

Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Company has “Drink Coffee. Do Good” as its motto. It started with farmers in Rwanda (the founder saw the effects of the genocide and had to do SOMETHING) and now works with farmers in Haiti and Thailand as well. They sell 100% Arabica, fairly traded, fresh roasted coffee. They sell ground, whole bean, and decaf, teas, and coffee accessories.

I Have a Bean “was created for a purpose–to positively impact the lives of post-prison men and women, their families, and the communities in which we live.” This business employs post-prison men and women. If you’re in the Wheaton area, drop in their store on Fridays for free coffee and a chat with their awesome staff!

If you’re in Chicago’s western suburbs, drop in at River City Roasters in Wheaton (if you’re not, you can visit them virtually) and pick up a few bags of their direct-trade blends, which River City Roasters roasts themselves. Sometimes they also have their Venture blend, which supports Venture Corp (www.entertheventure.com), a small nonprofit started by some young friends of ours. Each bag purchased helps support two wonderful ministries in Africa. (I am privileged to have met both Mary and Ronnie, the leaders of the two ministries Venture supports.) Speaking of Venture, you can visit its website and support its ministries through buying beautiful Ugandan necklaces. Just click on the “enter the venture” link above.

LOOKING FOR HANDCRAFTED CROCHETED ITEMS–AND MORE?

My husband just told me about this one, and I checked it out and love their website. What a great story! A group of high school guys learned to crochet simply because they wanted unique ski hats on the local slopes. Others dubbed them the Krochet Kids. Long story short (if you want to know the whole thing, visit the website), they taught these skills to women in northern Africa and then Peru, and they sell these handmade items at www.krochetkids.org. Each item carries with it the signature of the woman who crocheted it, and you can visit the website to learn her story. They’ve also branched out and now offer several ethically-made clothing and accessory items as well.

AND, FINALLY, FOR THE PERSON WHO HAS EVERYTHING

Buy them a goat—bet they don’t have that. Seriously, go to World Vision or Compassion or Open Doors USA or International Justice Mission (the links take you directly to their online gift catalogs). The first two have items like school supplies, ducks, and clean-water wells–and goats! Open Doors has items that are specific to the needs of the persecuted church worldwide, and IJM allows you to pay for trauma counseling or legal representation for those suffering injustice. You can honor someone with your gift, and that person will receive a card telling about your gift and what it will accomplish. If you want to keep the idea of giving in front of you this season, request that a print gift catalog from either World Vision or Compassion be sent to you. It’s a fantastic tool to use with kids during this season when they are constantly faced with advertisements that fool them into thinking that their “wants” are actually “needs.”

ANY OTHER IDEAS???

If you have other ideas, please leave a comment and share! I’d love to hear and share other opportunities to give gifts that give back. Feel free to share this list with others.

Thanks for reading! I sure enjoyed pulling the list together.

From dark to light

DSC_0743Daylight saving turns

The dimmer knob of the day,

And the afternoons are cut short.

Dusk chases my children in.

They stare through

windows at the settling gloom.

They are no longer young.

They remember what autumn brings.

“When?” they ask.

“When will daylight grow again?”

“Around Christmas,” I tell them.

They sigh. Still so far away!

With a more gradual movement,

A global twisting,

We lean away from the Sun.

Darkness now pursues

us home from school.

Outdoor hours are few

And precious.

Suddenly, new light!

Not much—small, twinkling,

Strung in trees, across porches—

But shining bright with hope

against the encroaching shadows.

My children’s eyes sparkle.

Though tiny, these pinpoint lights

Remind us: Christ did come!

They proclaim: He will come again!

True Light will return

Triumphant

Once and for all!

Until then, my children,

Even as dark presses close,

Let us, filled with True Light,

Shine as small beacons,

Gleam like tiny stars

Beam as heralds of Hope.

Christ has died.

Christ has risen.

Christ will come again.

Giving Tuesday and a funny

blanketGiving Tuesday is coming up (December 1), and while I don’t really care if you “observe” Black Friday or Cyber Monday, I hope you celebrate Giving Tuesday big time! For the last couple years I’ve posted a list of gifts-that-give-back opportunities on Giving Tuesday, and I plan to do it again this year. This year’s list will include most of last year’s, but it will also have some new additions. Do any of you have suggestions to add to the list? If you do, leave me a comment here or email me at jenunderwood0629@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!

Speaking of “giving,” my kids are already gearing up for Christmas presents. They swapped names for their sibling gifts a couple weeks ago (the list is stuck on the refrigerator as a ready reminder!) and this past weekend they all gathered around the dining room table to discuss their collective gift for me and my husband. A couple years ago they got us a beautiful blanket from Hand and Cloth (it’s on the Giving Tuesday list!). You can see a picture of it above.

Anyway, I was in the kitchen just a few feet away, so they made me put on my daughter’s big old headphones and listen to music while I washed dishes so I couldn’t hear. Suddenly my youngest was by my side, rubbing his eyes in the way he does when he is trying very, very hard not to cry. I looked at him and then into the dining room where the older girls were motioning me to take off the headphones.

When I did, Em said, “Ask him why you don’t deserve a Christmas present.” She was grinning.

I laughed. “So, bud, why don’t your dad and I deserve a Christmas present.”

“Christmas is just for kids,” he said, very, very seriously.

This child is quite attached to his wallet, so I suspected the reason might be more a fiscal than philosophical matter. “How much are they wanting you to put in?” I asked.

“Fifteen cents!” he wailed, and when I started to laugh, his older brother hollered, “It’s all he has!”

The gift of Soli Deo Gloria

soli deo gloria

I got my necklace from Etsy and I love all the work this artist, Mandy England, creates. She’s closed for the holidays, but here’s the link to her business: http://shop.mandyengland.com/

The phrase Soli Deo Gloria, meaning Glory to God alone, is used often at Wheaton Academy, where I have worked for over nine years. In the last year, it has taken on new meaning to me, so much so that I requested a necklace with the phrase on it for my birthday.

A few weeks ago, in a meeting with my boss at WA, we were talking through upcoming articles for the Wheaton Academy website. In a pause in our conversation, we both jumped in and said, “I have a story idea!”

“You go first,” she told me. As I read to her what I’d jotted down in my journal about Soli Deo Gloria, she got excited and finally broke in. “This fits in perfectly with my idea. I want a piece up for Christmas, a gift piece.”

A gift piece. Oh, the two ideas did fit together! Christ’s birth, followed by his life, death, and resurrection, gives us the incredible, unimaginable gift of living for the glory of God!

I expanded my ideas for a piece for the Academy, but what follows are those original thoughts in my journal. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Soli Deo Gloria

This phrase, meaning “Glory to God Alone,” is generally seen as a charge, a challenge, but what we sometimes forget is that, most of all, it is a gift.

A gift from God to us.

You see, we all live for the glory of something: comfort, success, popularity, power, love. At the root of all of them is the desire to glorify self.

What we don’t understand is the pursuit of self will always end in misery.

But when we pursue the glory of God, we experience magnificent joy and immeasurable fulfillment.

Soli Deo Gloria is a gift of God extended through the sacrifice of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. In Christ, with the Spirit, we can let go of the self-glory that destroys us. We can be captivated by God’s glory, which is great and wonderful and encompasses all. When we give ourselves over to it, we find our lives take on a larger purpose. Every part of our lives and beings, even our failings, weaknesses, and sorrows, is transformed by the glory of God. All will be used for ultimate good. We gain a true perspective of all talents. We learn that in the kingdom of God, kindness, mercy, faithfulness, and thoughtfulness are highly prized.

When we grasp this, we are able to look beyond ourselves to others. We can see the interconnectedness of all our lives. We gain a vision of working with fellow Christians. We value their talents, for we see how they complement our own.

In the light of God’s glory, those old pursuits—comfort, success, popularity, power—are revealed as pale substitutes, and what the world views as “small”—loving relationships, kindness to neighbors, concern for the least, consistently ethical decisions, a choice to live on and with “enough”—these shine with the bright light of eternity.

When we live for the glory of God, we ourselves receive a glory that is out-of-this-world—literally. This is the gift we proclaim. This is the paradoxical truth that sets us free to live each moment with joy and purpose.

In the words of the late Henri Nouwen, “Our little lives become great—part of the mysterious work of God’s salvation. Once that happens, nothing is accidental, casual, or futile any more. Even the most insignificant event speaks the language of faith, hope, and above all, love.”

I simply had to share this with you! I saw this in our neighborhood last week and fortunately had a couple minutes free to pull over and take a shot! Can't you imagine some little one asking for this!

I simply had to share this with you! I saw this in our neighborhood last week and fortunately had a couple minutes free to pull over and take a shot! Can’t you imagine some little one asking for this!

 

odds and ends

In this post you will find 1. an addition to the 2014 “Gift that Gives Back” post; 2. a Guatemalan church using clothes to draw children and families to Christ and His Body; 3. a few pictures; 4. a couple funny Underwood kid stories, and 5. a link to a story I wrote for Wheaton Academy that is such an inspiring and beautiful story I wanted to share it here, too.

1. As an addition to the 2014 “Gifts that Gives Back” post, one reader suggested Trades of Hope, a business that empowers women out of poverty. They work with women from ten different countries, including the U.S., and produce jewelry, scarves, home decor, handbags, and stationery.

2. My sister-in-law also sent me a wonderful ministry I want to pass on. Both her older daughters have lived for extended periods in Guatemala, working with a fantastic church and ministry there. They have started a Christmas initiative called Una Noche Buena, which provides a full set of new clothes to underserved children in the community, and they do it in a way that fosters relationship not only with the child but with the child’s family. It’s a wonderful ministry, and I’d love for you to check it out. Visit the link above and then click on “English” in the top right corner (unless, of course, you’re fluent in Spanish). Great stories–and you can pray for the ministry–and contact the pastor if you would like more information.

3. It’s hard to believe on a day like today, when the temperature climbed out-0f-season to

first snowman 2014

nearly 50 degrees, but a few weeks ago we had two snowfalls. The first was really light, but enough snow fell for the kids to make their first snowman. I put a glove next to it so you can see how small it actually was–but it was cute!

Soon after, we had a little more snow–but still not that much, so I was quite impressed when I saw the snowman the kids made from it on the back deck.

Then, just a few days later, the snow all melted. I looked out the back window and
second snowman 2014noticed a pile of twigs and leaves. “Jake, Maddie, Patrick,” I called out, “who dumped that mess on the back deck?” Maddie came to the window and looked out. She seemed puzzled, but then said, “Oh, that was the center of our snowman!”

melted snowman

rosatis conga lineI took this last picture on a Friday night a few weeks ago. Exhausted from the week, when the inevitable “What’s for dinner?” question was posed, I wailed, “I don’t know!”

“We should get Rosati’s,” someone suggested, referring to our local pizza joint. Within a minute, they’d formed a line and wound their way through the main floor, chanting, “Rosati’s! Rosati’s!” It was effective. Forty minutes later we enjoyed pizza that I didn’t make. Yay!

4a. Jake was reading the nutritional information on the Corn Chex (or whatever the off-brand version we get is called). “Mom, does too much fiber make you poop?”

Me: “Not too much, just fiber.”

J: “Then how is it bad?”

M: “Fiber isn’t bad. You need it to poop. It’s good.”

Jake looked at the box again. “Awesome! This cereal has fiber and it’s glutton-free!” (He meant “gluten.”)

4b. PJ had to dress up as a book character for school. Jake was coming up with suggestions for him. Jake’s final one: “Too bad Mom’s not finished writing your adoption story. You could just go as yourself.”

4c. It was pajama day at school for Maddie and she was concerned with her clothes matching. “Mads,” I said, “it’s pajama day. Who cares if they match? Look at me.” I was wearing my very old threadbare blue sweats, one of Dave’s running shirts, and my late Pappaw’s rust-colored button-up fleece shirt–with the running shirt hanging out the bottom.

Maddie looked at me for a long moment. Then she looked at Dave. “Dad, when I grow up, do I have to be awkward like Mom?”

5. WA Boys Soccer Team Inspired by Eight-Year-Old Superfan–follow the link to read a story about an eight-year-old with an undiagnosed illness who befriends and is befriended by a high school boys soccer team. The relationship that develops is beautiful.

the pursuit of Wisdom

DSC_0923I frequently get “stuck” in my Scripture reading. Sometimes this happens because it’s simply not “fun” to read (parts of Leviticus fall into this category). Sometimes it’s because I’m wrestling or struggling with the ideas (other parts of Leviticus fall into this category), but sometimes—like this time—it’s because what it is presenting is so good, so beautiful, and I want it so badly.

I’m often surprised by the passages that do this to me—like this one in Proverbs 2. I’ve never particularly been drawn to the Proverbs, but I was first captured by the fervent searching for Wisdom portrayed in the early verses of the chapter and then pulled up short by this verse that describes the result of finding it: “Then you will understand righteousness, justice, and fair dealing [in every area and relation]; yes, you will understand every good path.” (Amplified version)

Doesn’t that sound amazing? Isn’t it what we need? I know I am desperate for this as a mom. All these personalities living under one roof, different ages, dealing with friend issues and school issues and sibling issues, each needing to be trained and made ready for the time when they will leave home. I need a doctorate in psychology to keep up with all the mood swings alone.

Or I need Wisdom.

What about issues? Most days I read the news and get overwhelmed. I wonder, How should I, as a Christ follower, think about this or that? How should I respond when I talk with someone who thinks radically differently than I? What does it mean to “love my neighbor as myself” in my context?

I need Wisdom.

Organization. How do I balance family, work, a home, and life or interests outside all those? Throw out the word “balance”—how about “juggle,”  or just “somewhat manage”?

I need Wisdom.

So what is it? And how do I get it?

I began to do some studying and my head was soon swimming with ideas. Here are a few:

Proverbs 1:7 says the reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge—which leads to wisdom. Then Proverbs 2:5 says wisdom leads to a worshipful fear of the Lord—so this is like a circle, with one leading to the other and vice versa. Hmm. Wisdom is also personified as a woman crying out in the city streets. Some scholars say it is the Law itself—all God’s instructions, which I would imagine would be the whole of Scripture for us. God gives Wisdom; in Proverbs 2:6 it is pictured as “coming from His mouth”—in other “words,” it IS His Word. That leads me to this thought: Christ is called the Word—and I Corinthians 1:30 says He became to us “wisdom from God.” *

The studying and resulting ideas were wonderful, but…

But how do I get Wisdom? How do I get what I so badly need?

James 1:5 tells me to ASK! To simply ask! Proverbs 2 shows me, though, that this asking is not half-hearted. The passage uses phrases like “treasure up my commands,” “make your ear attentive,” “incline and direct your heart,” and “seek (it) as for silver.”

So it’s a whole-hearted endeavor! But the end result is worth the pursuit!

I’ve been thinking about this for nearly a week now, so when we sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” on Sunday at church, I noticed the reference to Wisdom right away. It’s in the second verse: “O Come, thou Wisdom from on high,/Who orderest all things mightily;/To us the path of knowledge show,/And teach us in her ways to go.” Ah! Wisdom shows up even in my favorite Christmas hymns. (Here’s a link to an instrumental piano/cello rendition of it–beautiful!)

I’ve got a long, long way to go to become truly wise (and every day I understand I’m not nearly as far along on this journey as I thought I was!), but I’m asking today—and tomorrow—and the next day—and the next—for “skillful and godly Wisdom (to) enter into (my) heart…”

…so I will understand “righteousness, justice, and fair dealing [in every area and relation];” so I will “understand every good path.”

*Some of these ideas came straight from Scripture. Others came from a great article I found related to this question titled “Does Proverbs Speak of Jesus?