Many of you long for a Christmas season away from the materialism your local shopping mall offers. I’m sharing today one of our family traditions that began in 2012 when the stories of destruction started coming out of Syria and the DRC. We were heartbroken, and didn’t know what to do. This Advent calendar became one simple response. Somehow as the years turned since 2012, the sadness in the world hasn’t changed, maybe it is even heavier. Even with the good news stories out there, I am still overwhelmed at the way our culture normalizes abuse and destruction. This little step is a reminder that we can do something every day to hold close and in our prayers the lives of those who face destruction daily. I’ve added details at the end of the post about how I made the calendar.

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Before Jesus told raging waters to be still, before he fed 5,000, before the blind saw and the lame walked, before there were prostitutes, tax collectors and fishermen, before the nails and the whips and the thorns, before all of this, he was a baby, he was a child.

What is he thinking about when he looks at the children of the world today? Does he remember what it was like to be hungry, naked, tired, afraid?

Come to me, all of you, Jesus would say, just as he said 2,000 years ago, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. 

When grenades fall in Damascus and little children fearfully huddle in apartment buildings, Jesus remembers running with his parents to hide for his life.

When little children are gunned down in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Jesus remembers the campaign of violent genocide Herod began after Jesus’ birth.

When there is no food to eat again and tiny tummies quake with hunger in North Korea, Jesus remembers 40 days without food and water.

When a child in Gaza prays in the night for peace, Jesus remembers being far from his true home, alone in a cold, hostile, violent world.

When little girls in Cambodia are beaten and exploited, Jesus remembers the torture of the lash and the nail driven through his wrist and the betrayal of his friends.

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He didn’t have evergreens, and there was no bunting of glass balls around the manger. Yes, he knew the safety and security of his mother’s embrace, but he didn’t know – or maybe he did, please no theological debates – that they were in a stable, stinky, dirty, dark and unhygienic in every way. His parents had very little financial provision, someone was going to try and end his life before it had barely even begun and his first two years would be spent on the run, as a refugee in Egypt.

He was a baby. He was a child. And he knows what it was like to have nothing and to be in danger, and when the chorus of cries from exploited, abused, neglected and unwanted children rise to heaven, he collects them all because he knows.

This Advent season, we are letting our cry from our corner of Australia join with theirs. As a family for the next 24 days, we will take a card a day, pray for the country and the child in the photo. It is our way of saying they have a name, their lives matter, their future matters.

I know that your life in December is already full, most likely it is fuller than you want it to be. For parents in Australia, school comes to an end, there are concerts to attend, squirrely, tired children to manage, and the end of school “look forward to.” For those of you without children or partners, you may have a big work push toward the end of the year, parties to attend, and perhaps 2017 has been too full of a year for you emotionally and physically, and December makes you feel the hustle of the past 345-something days.

This is not for everyone – the last thing any of us need is one more reason to feel like we aren’t doing enough.

But if in your spirit you’ve felt restless or sad at the thought of a Christmas like the ones in the past, maybe what you need is something like this. A space to hold some sadness on behalf of others, a place to pour out your prayers on behalf of those who suffer profound losses, injustice and abuse in our days. Prayer is my starting point for action, and it surprises me yearly what other actions end up following. What I’m trying to say is that prayer is never wasted because when we pray, we change, and prayer is never wasted because God hears (and acts).

Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free. From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. 

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The How – Simple is better

1. I went to Google Images and searched for photos of children from countries I wanted to pray for, and I also went to Compassion’s and World Vision’s child sponsorship pages and picked specific kids from places that are dear to us and also places that are facing particular challenges.

2. I printed out the photos, cut them out and stuck them on cardboard squares cut out of our old diaper boxes. You can stick the photos on anything. You don’t have to stick it on anything at all.

3. I strung the squares out on raffia, and put a numbered clothespin on each one marking the day, then I hung it up in a place where we could easily see it. This year I will keep the cards in a box, and take one out a day. I’m going to pay no attention to the numbers. Just one a day.

4. There’s no need to get religious about this – prayers aren’t long or complicated, you can do it on your own when you want to, or if you have a family, we did it at a certain time (rarely the same one), I would tell my kids daily that it was time to pray for a “kiddo in another part of the world.” We take a photo and pray for them. It takes less than five minutes. This is more about in which direction we want to orient our hearts and theirs.

Dear friend, I am sitting here thinking about you and this space and how much I want to just chat again. It’s been a long time without any writing here, and I miss it. They – I don’t know who these people are, mythical guru types – say that you’re never supposed to put a blogging explanation up when you stop writing for a while, but I have to keep reminding myself that this is my space. I get to make my own rules.

What a year. We aren’t at the end, but the events in the world, the bloodshed, the disrespect, the abuse, it seems like we’ve opened a Pandora’s box that will not be shut as venom pours out. In my own life, I faced one of the most challenging personal situations I’ve dealt with in a long time. The middle of this year felt lost in this battle against fear and against myself. I started a graduate program at our local seminary, and I finished my first class last week. It was the second half of the Old Testament – Prophets and writings. I left every class overwhelmed with what I did not know about the Jewish context for these books, overwhelmed and grateful. When I read the headlines of our often unstable world, it helped to read the stories of unstable times that are thousands of years old. We are not the only ones who face immoral leaders and deal with abuse of power. It’s been here, it’s been here for a long time.

We spent five weeks in Europe to reconnect with our family there, and we returned to Geneva, the birthplace of this blog over seven years ago. It’s the first time we went back as a family, and it felt significant. Taking the boys on the bus routes they went on as babies in a stroller. Retracing my steps through the hospital where they were born. Standing in front of the apartment where I met my husband. Overwhelming emotions, many thoughts, and I’ll be slowly writing about those here because I hope to blog once a week from now for a little while, at least until my next class starts in seminary.

When I first started this blog, I was a housewife in Geneva, Switzerland. I think something in my soul was knocking, telling me it was time to start writing again. So I started writing about what we were eating, it was going to be a food blog. Nothing too personal. Then I got pregnant unexpectedly. Had my first sonMy father-in-law died. And the words that were mostly about food turned toward other things, perhaps the things that have been there all along, and I’ve spent the last five years pulling back the bandaid on those things. Slowlyunevenlytotally inconsistently. And you’ve been here with me, listening, talking back, sharing your life. Thank you.

I started this for me, a means to process my own life, but over time it became about you, too, and wondering what these words and stories could be in your life. I hope that this has been a place of rest for you. I hope you encounter beauty here, I hope you sense an invitation to think deeply and breathe in grace and hope and move forward with your life with hope as your fuel, wherever you are, whatever you do, whoever you are. You and your life, your stories, your history and your dreams are welcome here.

 

As a thank you for being part of the life of this space, I’m hosting a giveaway. I’ll send one blog subscriber the book Soulkeeping by John Ortberg in the mail wherever you are in the world. This book was a life-changing read for me, and I hope it will minister to you.

How to enter the giveaway:
1. Subscribe to this blog (if you are already subscribed, you don’t need to do anything except number 2).
2. Leave a comment, tell me that you’ve subscribed and answer this question: what would you like to read on this blog? I would love to know your answer. If you’re already a subscriber, you’ll need to click over to the blog post to leave a comment.
3. The giveaway is open until Friday, November 17, 2017.

The woods are wild in the late German summer. Grass inches toward the road, creeps over the pavement, reaching for the concrete. Trees grow into each other from opposites sides of the road. Shades of green are everywhere. Deep, dark fir, jade vines, brighter chartreuse on bushes, celery-colored leaves.

It looks overrun, like the gardener took a vacation and didn’t have anyone to cut back the growth while he was away. It looks like the forests could spring out the gobble up roads and cities, but it happens fast, the turning from abundant, unfettered growth to the bare branches of winter.  All it will take are these last few weeks of fall, and these green leaves will turn yellow, orange, red, brown.

The forests will be contained again, leaves will not fight each other for the sun and the light will shine through the naked, wooden gaps.

No one guts its growth. The cold that changes a leaf’s color will send it to the ground, buried with its millions of brothers and sisters. The carpet of leaves will turn into the next layer of soil. Branches will shrink back from the road.

The changing season prunes the forest.

What fall begins, winter will end, and somehow this picture of limited life in a limited universe comforts me. Nothing lasts forever. Not us. Not the trees in the forest.

Continue reading at GraceTable

This post is part of Andrea Lucado’s series, “Notes to Your Younger Self,” celebrating the release of her new book, English Lessons. It’s an honour to be part of it; this is a note to myself when I was in the middle years of university. At the end of this post, there are details about a fun book giveaway, so read on and find out how you can enter. You can also read this post at Andrea’s blog.
It was a solid concrete mass of a highway that got you there. Straight on Highway 412, a right onto Holly Street and then a slight left on West University Avenue. On the left across from the cathedral is a graveyard. Concrete tombstones dotted the green field, there were trees and a gravel path that wove between the plots. You went there to run and to think, brown and red leaves crunching under your feet in the autumn and frozen air burning up your lungs in the winter. It was a quiet place for your thoughts. No one would know about the fear, the anxieties, the despair. The graveyard was almost always empty.

University started when you were 19, a Sri Lankan missionary kid from the Philippines. Your mother hugged you goodbye on the concrete pavement in front of the women’s dorm, and you walked inside, into an American life on a small, Christian campus. There were daily classes, the all-you-can drink soda machines in the cafeteria, shopping at Wal-Mart and chapel services twice a week.

It has taken us 12 years since graduation to begin unraveling the space between the days.

Your life was going to be a mistake-free, dead straight road, heading in one direction. Jesus, heaven, peace. Was that the destination? There were visible off ramps and some detour signs, but you couldn’t possibly take a break from the straight road. If you did, you were lost with no way back. Your certainty was your security.

I see your fears, the ones that keep you inside the four walls of your dorm room. You’re afraid of making a mistake, of failing, you’re afraid of sin. Earning your way into belonging and love is the only way to satisfy your fears, but you can’t cope with the work it involves. So you wait through it. There is an unknown world of culture and calling right outside the door, and you don’t know how to navigate it. You think that by living less, by limiting your decisions, by staying safe you will keep yourself away from the unknown towns on the side of the highway.

One day you get off the straight Arkansas road, fly to the far side of the sea, travel around the world. You get married, you have children, and as the days tick over, you fight to live.

But I need you to know that there are so many mistakes, so many failures, and sin that so easily entangles, and I’m sorry, but this is life.

It is full of darkness.

You learned to fear the things that seemed big, so you stayed away from a second drink and didn’t date, but no one told you that selfishness breeds loneliness and pride only leads to destruction and your years can waste away in bitterness. You have no idea how much you will struggle to be truly honest with the man you love, how easy it is to lie about the small things, how easy it will be to not keep your word. You will not always be honest with friends, you will play a role you were not supposed to fill, and when you can’t take it anymore, you will run away from expectations you cannot meet. You will fail so many people.

Darkness will wrestle with you. It will not win, but it will be there. It has to be there. You cannot know the light until you’ve sat in the darkness.

There is a life waiting outside the highway. It will often look like a wilderness, but someone else is there. Did God grab hold of you? Did you grab hold of him? Theologians spend centuries debating how it works, and all you know is that you don’t know, but you are not in the wilderness alone.

His love and his truth remake you away from the straight road, in your mistakes and failures and sins, he is working.

It looks like asking for forgiveness. Often. You will have to learn how to belong to friends, community, husband and family, and learning how to belong to people when you make mistakes is a painful, beautiful lesson in grace. You learn that you don’t have to trust everyone, that building a friendship takes time. Endings become comfortable, you know now that not all things, not all people, not all relationships last forever.

I need you to know that the mistakes and failures lead to redemption and hope – this is the long road of wisdom and experience that you cannot see in a fall and spring semester. But when you turn around and look at the decades, you see the dead things made new, the ashes turning into beauty. It takes time for the spirit of despair to become a garment of praise.

So go ahead and live. Take the back roads and the tree-lined boulevards. Skip on gravel paths, fly down the autobahn, you cannot get lost because you don’t travel alone. He is leading you home.

Notes to Younger self growing up

Fun giveaway time!! I’ve got two copies of English Lessons to giveaway to anyone living in the US, and one copy for someone in Australia (apologies to those in Europe and Asia!). The giveaway is open until Friday, June 9.

To enter: Just leave a comment on this post and tell me, what’s one thing you would go back and say to your younger self? Please also indicate if you are in the US or Australia.

Update: The giveaway is closed, and the winners have been notified. Thanks!

autumn leaves in melbourne australia

Autumn in Melbourne has been a few months of beauty and hard. March was probably the hardest month I’ve had in years, and it’s taken a few weeks to recover, but I am always, always amazed at the richness found in the seasons of difficulty. It becomes fuel for the seasons to come. Here’s what I learned in Autumn 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.

I want to live in Melbourne. Maybe forever. 

It’s too long a story to share here, but we had to deal with some administrative paperwork related to my husband’s Australian visa this autumn. Having to stare in the face the reality that living in Australia together is not guaranteed is the first time I realized there is nowhere in the world I would rather live than Melbourne. I guess you don’t know what you want until it feels like someone is going to take that away.

Take away social media, add in something else.

I went off social media for Lent, and it was not nearly as restful as my previous social media sabbaticals have been. Instead of surfing Facebook and Instagram, I watched Stephen Colbert’s Late Show monologues every day, I started watching The Crown and SeaChange (an Australian drama from the late 90s). What I learned: Media is easy to consume. Whatever that media may be.

Homemade hot cross buns are a thing of wonder. 

Easter morning was insanely delicious. No need to elaborate.

Music makes miserable moments a bit better. 

Hubby started making playlists, and he finds the best music, and one of my kids is calmed magically by tunes, the other one is obsessed with playing DJ. We have music on most  mornings, evenings and afternoons now via Spotify, and it has been a delight. Music has been bringing tears to my eyes, levity to difficult moments and dance party fun. Some of my current favourites are Stay Alive, Fools Gold, and for something sassy, Hey, Soul Sister.

Don’t just say yes to a project. 

I said yes to a writing project without thinking too much about whether or not I could write it. Saying “Yes” was easy, I was flattered, it involved a contract and pay, but when I got to writing, I felt out of my depth in a way that I did not expect. The deadlines were around some of the personally darkest weeks of the autumn season as well, I could not have anticipated that, but I wonder what would have happened if I had actually sat down, weighed the work and seen. Can I do this? Am I supposed to do this? I won’t be taking on another writing project without having a strong sense of “Yes” to those two questions.

Fidget spinners are a big deal. 

Oh my word. I think this toy initiated us into the “there are cool and not cool toys” stage of having children. My son received so many gifts for his birthday, but the favourite without a doubt – a small triangular shaped piece of metal that spins. And I learned to swallow my fears and just say it. God is good. He gives good things.

I love keeping track of what I’m learning, and thanks to Emily P. Freeman, there’s a place where it can be shared. Head over to her blog to read other great posts about what we’ve been learning and share your own story as well.