Lookpots, Grinches, and What If’s

Lookpots, Grinches, and What If’s

“Daddy, are you coming to the Look-pot today?” A wide-eyed three-year-old looks over at her daddy at the breakfast table. 

“The Look-pot?” A moment of confusion, and then the daddy (our son Lars) replies: “Oh, you mean the potluck. Yes, I am coming, Linnea.” 

“And Daddy, are you gonna look?” 

Linnea’s question remained with me long after this charming little conversation. It remained even after we ourselves got to go to the Thanksgiving Potluck at our granddaughters’ preschool during a recent wonderful visit to Kodiak, Alaska.

Read More

Home for Christmas

Home for Christmas

So there it is.  “All hearts come home for Christmas.”  The sign I have so loved for years.  Well, most years.

Last year I almost didn’t put it up. None of our kids or grandkids were “home for Christmas.” Not in our home, that is. They were in their own homes or sharing Christmas with a spouse’s family in their home. All as it should be. A reality of this chapter of life, whether I like it or not. And so I rationalized about my sign last year: in their hearts, I know they come home for Christmas. More importantly, they know where their True Home is. 

Read More

Christmas: The Lifting of a Burden?

The moment is etched in my memory forever.  It was the week before Christmas.  Our first Christmas in Wisconsin.  It was bitterly cold.  A piercing wind cut through  my layers of thermal clothing.  And all the way into my heart.

Everything about me felt cold.  We had moved from a place where we had lived many years, surrounded by multiple circles of friends and family, enveloped in warm memories and fireside moments.  And this new place felt cold.  Very very cold.

I was making my way across a supermarket parking lot, pushing a very heavy basket.  Here was the good part: We were preparing for a visit from all of our children that Christmas, so my basket was loaded with the promise of good times, warm moments around the fire.    But the moments would be fleeting.   The kids would leave, and it would be cold and lonely again.  Against my best judgment, self-pity was slouching its way into my soul.

Then I saw her.  Creeping along next to me, hunched over her basket filled with only one lonely bag of groceries, was a woman who reminded me of long-ago pictures of my German immigrant grandmother.  She wore a babushka over her wrinkled head, her claw-like fingers were crippled with arthritis, and she leaned heavily into her cart for support.  She wore an old cloth coat so thin I could almost see through it.

Seeing her, I paused.  Was there some way I could help her?  Offer to push her basket to her car (Did she really drive?  I didn’t see anyone with her, and the old car to which she seemed to be headed was empty.) so her progress across the lot would be less snail-like?  But my cart was so loaded, so heavy, that I was afraid it could lunge into another car if I let go of it.  I was moving slowly enough with the weight of it.

Then she saw me.  Before I could make a move, she slowly, painfully approached me.  “Ah, ah…such heavy burdens you have.  Your load is heavy.  I wish I could help you.”

I was stunned into silence.  Before I could move or speak, she was gone.  It seemed as if she vaporized.    Probably she made her way to her car while I stood there frozen in shock.  Probably.  I’m just not sure.

I never saw her again.  In fact, I never saw anyone who looked like her in the rest of our years in that town.  I have no idea who she was.

But I thought of her again this week.  I was re-reading parts of a favorite book: Somewhere More Holy, by Tony Woodlief.   The author, who has described the shattering tragedy of losing a young daughter, is reflecting on the Incarnation, “the coming of God to live with us as a man, shouldering our burdens, enduring with us our trials.”  And he asks the question: “Have you ever tried to carry a heavy burden,  felt its weight on your shoulder or against your leg, and then suddenly felt it lighten as a friend arrived to help you with it? This is Christmas to us.” (p. 50)

Indeed.  This is Christmas.  This, and so much more.  A God Who came to “live in the neighborhood” for a time.  A God who calls us to bring our heavy burdens to Him.  A God who shows up in the most unlikely ways and places.

Be watchful this Christmas.

Emmanuel: Into a Weeping World

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children And refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.”

These words from the Gospel (Matthew 2:18) have haunted me ever since the first unthinkable reports began coming out of Newtown, CT, last Friday.  Weeping.  Great mourning.  Howling grief.  What other response could we possibly have to such unimaginable horror and evil?

The world weeps with Rachel.  Our hearts are broken.  Our prayers are continual.  Our arms are extended.  Mothers all over the country—and the world—feel it at a deep, visceral level.  I know people who left work on Friday, sick with the news.  A friend left our neighborhood Christmas party, bought low by the day’s events.  Every mother—and grandmother—I know wanted to rush to school instantly and flee with her child.  We see the faces and hear the names—and they are our own children.

Weeping with Rachel.  And for all our children who grow up in a world in which such things can happen.  In Newtown, Connecticut.  Or Syria.  Or Congo.  As Nicholas Wolterstorff observes in his memorable book Lament for a Son, it’s the only appropriate response to such raw grief and loss: “Come and sit with me on my mourning bench.”

“Weep with those who weep,” the Scriptures tell us (Romans 12:15 NKJV).  And that’s just what our Lord did.  He wept with friends at the death of their brother (See John 11).  He wept over the city of Jerusalem and the devastation that was to come (Luke 19:41-44).

But here’s the really amazing thing: He chose to come into a weeping world.  A world in which violence under Roman rule was the norm.  A world in which a wicked king could order the death of all babies two years old and under in a quiet, unsuspecting village.  A world in which God Himself could be nailed to a cross.

Emmanuel.  God with us.  “The virgin shall be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:23)  He came into a wicked, broken, weeping world—and He wept with us.  He chose to do that.  He still does.

But He did much more.  He gave His very life that sin and death might be defeated.  That’s what we celebrate at Christmas.   That He came.  That He lived.  That He died.  That He rose again, defeating sin and death and opening the gates to eternal life.  That He Who became God with us, who brought God to us, will one day bring us to God.  To eternity in a place where there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”  (Revelation 21:4)

Now that’s something to celebrate—even in a weeping Christmas.

Advent in I-Don’t-Know-Ville

It occurred to me recently that the answer to almost every question in my life right now is: “I don’t know.”   With Woody’s recent retirement, we have made plans to move “back home” to New England.  We are in the process of purchasing a condo under construction in the Boston area.

But from there on it’s all questions.  When will we move? I don’t know.  It depends on selling our current home.  When will the house sell?  I don’t know.  What will it be like to move “back home”?  Is it even possible to do that?  Or was novelist Thomas Wolfe right when he famously proclaimed “You Can’t Go Home Again”?  I don’t know.  What about that biopsy you’ve been putting off?  When will you get that done?  I don’t know.  It depends on getting a major insurance mess straightened out.  How long will that take?   I don’t know.  And what about the results…?  Well, you’re getting the picture.

I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one living in I-don’t-know-ville.   Tons of people I know and love are living there, too.  Will the never-ending international adoption saga never end?  When will we meet these children?  WILL we ever meet these children?  When will my prodigal come home?  WILL he/she come home?  Will this court case ever get resolved and justice—and mercy—prevail?  Will the doctors ever figure out what’s wrong?  Will the money last till the end of the month?  To name just a few questions in my prayers for those I love.

It seems to be an Advent season of I-don’t–know.  Which brings to mind the fact that there were a lot of I-don’t-know people at that first Christmas.   Joseph and Mary must have had plenty of unanswered questions on that road to Bethlehem.   And when they had to flee to Egypt.  And a thousand other times in the parenting of Jesus.  What was God up to in allowing life for His son to look like this?  And the shepherds and the wisemen: What does this amazing birth mean?  And Simeon and Anna in the years they waited to meet Him: “How long, O Lord, how long?”

But they did know one thing, and it’s the central truth of Christmas: God is now with us!  “And they will call Him Immanuel—which means, “God with us.”  (Matthew 1:23)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like living in I-don’t-know-ville.  It makes me nervous.  I am, after all, half-German, firstborn, and off the charts on the Myers Briggs J-scale.   I like answers better than questions.  But maybe there’s something to be learned here from those first Christmas people.  And more importantly, from the God who invaded their world.

Amidst all the unanswered questions of our lives, there is one Big Answer.  What we don’t know, He does.  What we can’t control, He can.  Wherever our future takes us, He is there already.   It’s something BIG to celebrate in Advent.  A cause for great joy—yes, Joy!  Even in this Advent season of I-don’t-know.

A “Mary Christmas” to You!

I felt it coming on early this morning: I was shifting into “Martha mode.”   So far I’ve been very reflective about Advent this year, wanting to be like two Marys in the Bible—the one who sat at Jesus’ feet and listened, and the one who was His mother, with much to treasure and ponder in her heart.

But this morning was different.  I awoke with shopping lists and baby equipment on the mind, and visions of menu planning and baking, Pack’n Plays and car seats, dancing in my head.  I felt like Martha, “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” (Luke 10:40).

We are extra-excited about Christmas this year.  In just one week they begin to arrive for overlapping visits: all 6 of our adult kids (each of our 3 and spouses) and all 6 of our grandkids.  We are very geographically scattered, from Wisconsin to Florida to New Hampshire and on to Ireland, so it’s a rare event that we will all be together for four whole days—for the first time in a year and a half.

We can’t wait!  But there’s a lot to do. And this morning, the length of my lists hit me full force.  Then I remembered wise words from the poet Mary Oliver (written in a different context) that a friend had sent me recently as a reminder of how to celebrate Advent: “Walk slowly.  Bow often.”  Is there any better time than Advent to be reminded of this?

“Walk slowly.  Bow often.”  I forwarded these words to our kids, with a brief note acknowledging how impossible that must seem amidst their busy lives with babies and toddlers and preschoolers.

My daughter-in-law Abby wrote back with a very interesting perspective (which I share with her permission):

“We were convinced that we couldn’t walk slower than we did with Soren (now 5 and a very fast runner!)…but Nils (22 months) has him beat!  The sun rises and falls before Nils can get himself from the car to the back door.  He greets every puddle, squirrel, and leaf with a glorious pause and ‘hi!’ It’s a long obedience…Now I’ll just have to think about bowing often as I stand holding the door open wishing I had a cattle prod.  Thanks, Mom!”

“Walk slowly.  Bow often.”  If you can do it while waiting for a wonder-filled but dawdling toddler, maybe you can do it while waiting in line at Walmart, or while on hold trying to place an order.  Or maybe even in a few moments of quiet before tackling the day’s List.

So I sat quietly for a few moments this morning pondering our nativity set and thinking of Mary—and me, and you.  “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given…”   I prayed that I would not miss the wonder and mystery of it all even amidst the flurry of joyful family reunions.  I pray the same prayer for you—whether you walk the floor with a crying baby, or wait on slow-moving toddlers, or get ready for a houseful, or even prepare for a quieter Christmas this year.   May you find—or make—in this season a few “Mary moments” to welcome Him into your heart and life above all others.

“O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!”  Merry Christmas (and a “Mary” Christmas) to you all!

Great Ways to Say a Mom-to-Mom “Merry Christmas!”

Just after posting my last blog entry, I received a note from the leader of a Mom to Mom in Pennsylvania which has had me smiling ever since I read it. It is full of great examples of the “calling back” I wrote about last time. What encouragement and service and joy Mom to Mom can bring both within and beyond our churches! With joy—and with the writer’s permission—I share with you some wonderful things Mom to Mom groups in one church are doing. And they’re sure having fun doing them!

This year we encouraged all our Mom to Mom groups to do some sort of service project to make sure we remember that Christmas is not about us! We had a great response—and the groups did a lot of neat things.

  • My Mom to Mom group rang the bell for the Salvation Army at one of our local malls last Friday night. As part of our church's emphasis—Christmas, it's not about us—we are supplying volunteers to ring the bell at several locations throughout the holiday season—one hour shifts. It is such a great experience! Anyway, my group wanted to do it, so the moms brought husbands and kids and we all met in the freezing 20 degree Pennsylvania wind. We even had a therapy dog with antlers who belongs to my assistant leader—quite an attention getter I might add. We wore Santa hats and had bells galore. We sang every Christmas carol several times during the hour we were there, using our trusty song sheets. . . . We said Merry Christmas a million times and some of the kids with their Santa hats on opened the doors for the shoppers as they went into the mall. Two little angelic girls stood by the kettle and when folks would put money they would say so sweetly with those big innocent eyes—Thank you, Merry Christmas. For an hour I threw out my pride and wore the Santa hat and Salvation Army apron and led the group in song after song—by the end we could not feel our feet or hands we were so cold, despite the hot chocolate one of my moms brought for us all. At times there were so many of us that folks had trouble getting to the kettle to put the money in—I kept having to do crowd control and say, ‘Make a path! Make a path!’ The mall security guard drove past every 10-12 minutes—I think they were worried! LOL!
  • One of our moms has an 18 month old son who was diagnosed with a brain tumor back in September, the day we kicked off Mom to Mom. Her table group and the whole Mom to Mom AM (90 moms) are doing various things for the family, including buying presents, food, giving gas cards for their trips to the medical center, etc. One week we put out a basket and said just put anything in you can so we can give them a gift card for groceries for Thanksgiving. We got $500—we were overwhelmed. So neat to see everyone respond.
  • One group did another cool thing: the husband of one of our moms has been out of work—had a construction business but had to close it. He just got a job—they had to sell their house and everything. Our group of 10 put together a gift basket for her—and chipped in money for a Walmart gift card for food and Christmas gifts. We collected $300 within our group for the gift card—I could not believe it—that is from 10 women. And the gift basket was a work of art—filled with all sorts of special things just for her since moms usually go without when things get tight. She cried when she got it—
  • Also, our church is collecting reading glasses to take to Cuba in April when our pastor goes on a mission trip there. The older people in Cuba cannot read the Bible because they cannot see it. It is not a matter of money—there are no reading glasses in Cuba. Several of the PM Mom to Mom groups brought in reading glasses as their service project. Another group went to the county nursing home and sang to the residents—the kids went and it was so sweet.

What wonderful ways for Mom to Mom groups to say “Merry Christmas” to moms right in their group as well as to folks way beyond the church doors. I’ll bet you’re smiling, too. And maybe getting some great ideas for your Mom to Mom group next Christmas—-or in the many months in between. We’d love to hear from you, too, if you have ideas to share.

Merry Christmas one and all!

He’s Home!

Rejoice with us: Our son is home from Afghanistan! On December 10, Lars arrived home to the eager arms of his beautiful and beloved wife and children in North Carolina. And as Bengt told me excitedly, “When I saw Daddy, I ran and ran and hugged him so hard I knocked him over!”

I feel as if I could do the same thing when I see him. He’s home! He’s Home! He’s home! It’s almost a constant chant at the back of my mind every day.

And tomorrow, Lars and family will be arriving here—at our home in Wisconsin! Woody and I are so excited we are like two little kids. Our whole family will be together for Christmas! Lars, Kelly, Bengt, and Hannah come tomorrow, followed in the next few days by Bjorn, Abby, and Soren from New Hampshire, and then Erika, Richie, and Gabriella from Ireland. We are grateful beyond words.

I woke up with a singing heart. And then I cried. Because there’s something else going on today. Yes, we are making final preparations for the much anticipated arrivals—big food shopping to do, baby equipment to be borrowed, and toys to be gathered from the corners of the house where they’ve been tucked away since our grandchildren’s last visit.

But today, December 19, is also the two-year anniversary of my mom’s Homegoing. Two years ago today, in Ft. Myers, Florida, with my brother and me and her sister and husband at her side, Mom went to be with Jesus. She was 84 years old. I was hugely blessed to have such a wonderful mom all these years. But still, I wasn’t ready to let her go. I knew I had to. I knew she would be better off with Jesus than in her hospice room, lovely as it was. But still, I didn’t want to let her go.

And now, two years later, I miss her every day.

I lay in bed this morning thinking of all the mixed emotions of this day—the anticipation, the joy and gratitude, the sheer happiness; yet the deep down sadness I still feel as well. And suddenly I realized something. That continual mantra at the back of my mind (“He’s home, He’s home, He’s home”) has multiple meanings for me this Christmas.

At this time of year we celebrate the coming of One who came and made his home with us for a little while. But this was not His Real Home. He died and rose again and returned to His Real Home that it might also become our Real Home. So because He’s home, my mom is, too.

Time now to go and get ready. My heart is singing! He’s home! HE’S home! And she’s home, too—along with my dad and Woody’s parents and so many many others we love. Good reason to celebrate, don’t you think?

Merry Christmas!

Babies, Mamas . . . and their Mamas

I’m back! After 18 wonderful days (and nights—well, maybe they weren’t always so wonderful!) with Gabriella and her parents, I’m back home. And I’m up way too early. Amazing what jet lag does to you—it is, after all, nearly halfway through the day in Dublin.

In these dark and cold (here on the frozen tundra, our backyard thermometer reads below zero—I’m not sure I want to know how much below) early morning hours, I’m thinking thoughts of babies and mothers—and, of course, also the mothers of those mothers.

I’ve come home from my immersion in new-baby-land with two big impressions.

First, I am newly amazed and awed at the love God gives to a mother for her child. To both parents, really—but I am writing primarily to mothers here. It’s amazing what a mother will go through. Not only to give birth—that’s medal-of-honor material in itself. But how about the absolute and complete re-arrangement of your life when you bring that baby home? Topsy-turvy days and nights—if you can even tell the difference! Painful tenderness in all kinds of body parts you rarely thought about before. The need for a caravan (and household staff) just to get you out the door. I really don’t need to go on—you all remember this!

It was a great privilege to watch my daughter become, seemingly almost instantly, such a wonderful mother. And to see the way both Richie and Erika love this beautiful child beyond words even amidst their sleep-deprived fog of new parenting. I have new admiration for all of you reading this who are doing (and have done) the same thing.

My second big impression is a bit more personal. I just have to say that it is hard—very hard—to leave a daughter and granddaughter and get on a plane and fly 8 or 9 hours in the other direction. I envy any of you nanas who don’t have to do this. But this morning I’ve actually moved beyond my personal little pity party. I find myself thinking differently about the Christmas story.

For the first time ever, I find myself thinking of Mary’s mother. I’ve often thought of what that journey to Bethlehem on a donkey must have been like for just-about-to-deliver Mary. In fact, Erika and I talked often of this as we rocked Gabriella in the middle of the night.

But for some reason, I had never thought about Mary’s mother. The Bible tells us nothing about her, so of course this is all speculation. But what must it have been like to see your daughter set off on such a journey at such a time? And then probably not to see (or possibly even hear from) your child—and grandchild—for most likely several years? This was, after all, way before frequent flyer miles and email and Skype and cheap international phone rates!

I just read, for seemingly the thousandth time, Mary’s words to the angel upon learning of the Child she was to bear. The angel Gabriel has just answered Mary’s very human questions with the reminder that “nothing is impossible with God.” And Mary responds (in Luke 1:38), “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Those words have always astounded me. Stopped me right in my tracks. Made me almost speechless. And this morning I’m wondering whether Mary’s own mother had a similar heart response. And maybe that’s what made it possible for her to let Mary go.

Where did they (both Mary and, maybe—just maybe—her mom, too) get the strength to do this? The answer may just lie in my new granddaughter’s name. Gabriella means, I’ve just learned, “God gives strength.” And He does, doesn’t He? To mamas and their mamas all over the world. Then and now. Thank you Jesus! And may each of your reading this feel His strength this Advent season.

A closing personal note: I can’t resist including a few extra pictures this time—thanks for indulging this “Nana.” And . . . one more bit of exciting news from our family: we’re going to have another granddaughter in May! Lars and Kelly just learned from her ultrasound that Bengt is going to get the baby sister he’s been wanting. Lots to celebrate in our family this year. We give thanks.