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I didn’t quite meet my 2012 goal of blogging five days a week, but there was still lots of writing, cooking and thinking that took place last year. Here are a few of the posts that sat inside of me but never made it out.

Santa Claus, Jesus, advent

How Santa is really just an incomplete version of Jesus. We want someone who remembers us, who gives us what we want, who sees us when we’re sleeping and knows when we’re awake, who makes a time of year special.. but then we want him to leave us alone.

Christmas gifts in our home

We have only a few and simple ones, and we try to keep the focus on giving. (The photo is Small One opening his present from us, a plate, bowl and cup with construction vehicles around the border. Construction sites are one of his favourite things.)

Newtown, guns, America, Christians

One day I’ll be in heaven with God, and I’m going to ask him why American Christians believed that owning an assault weapon was a human right to which they were entitled. I’m fairly certain it’s only God who could explain this madness.

Pregnancy, health, weight gain

The post about pregnancy and how it taught me to respect my body and make it strong because my body is taking care of itself and another life. Both are important.

Why we haven’t spanked

Not why we won’t spank, just why we have not spanked Small One. Husband and I are still undecided about this method of discipline, but we are thankful that the methods we have used with our little son seem to be working so far.

Recipes

There were many dishes cooked that never made it to this blog either because of my own forgetfulness or because the camera was in Small One’s room, and I didn’t want to wake him up. Veggie lasagna, cranberry cheesecake bundt cake, delightful smoothie concoctions, lomo saltado, and many, many more.

Stay at home moms, working moms

Why I think it’s a lot harder to be a working mom, and why I have no problem saying that as a stay at home mom.

Discipline, love, Christian parenting

It’s hard to get anything out of Christian parenting resources that don’t seem to be fear-driven, meaning they all seem to be addressing the question: “How do we make sure our children don’t grow up and ______?” (insert the main sins Christian parents seem to be paranoid about), and the solution – in broad brush strokes – is a discipline system based on spanking. So the resources are heavy on the topic of discipline. There isn’t a lot on how to get to know your children, how to love your children, how to cultivate in our hearts an attitude that is for children and a culture in our home and churches that are for children.

 To floss my teeth everyday, was my answer when Husband asked me what my goals are for 2013. It was a safe answer even though there was no way I could escape the real question with five more hours to go in our car and the open autobahn ahead.

It was January 1, a symbolic day to talk about new beginnings, and there were many desires in my heart, but if I’m honest, 2012 still haunts me. Last January we were warm in Australia, eating good food and talking about the year – 2012 – ahead and the years past. I was telling Husband that we’ve had almost every major life stress that a person can endure in our first year-and-a-half of marriage except for death and divorce. Five  weeks later in February Husband’s father passed away. No one knew his cancer was back in early January.

What I’m saying is that all of my great dreams, plans and ideas about what 2012 would look like fell down around me, and it’s hard to look at a new year and think of good surprises because I now know that surprises sometimes come in terrible packages.

So here I stand at the beginning of another year and almost the beginning of a new year of life for me, and I know what my options are. Choose to be unhappy and afraid or choose to live in peace, joy and rest. There is a verse that God wrote on my heart many years ago, I set before you life and death, choose life that you may live. We are the only ones able to make the choices that govern the condition of our hearts, our minds and our attitudes. That is a domain unavailable to the influence of others unless we choose to let them in. I’m not the only one who had a difficult 2012, and I’m sure I’m not the only one of us who bought into the lie that there was nothing I could do about it. Yes, there is nothing we can do about circumstances that are outside of our control.

But all of us can do something about our attitudes. All of us can choose what we think about. All of us can decide where we want to set our hearts.

I want to stop complaining, whining and grumbling in 2013, I finally said to him. I don’t know how I became this kind of person, but it is not who I am. I don’t want this to be the attitude in our home. If the seed that I sow today is complaining, I will reap the fruit of unhappiness from our children tomorrow. I cannot do that to them. I cannot do that to myself. 

There are many goals, many dreams, many desires in my heart when I look at 2013, and yes, flossing my teeth daily is one of them. But the most important one is this: Look daily for God’s gifts to me in all things, write them down, meditate on them. Gratitude needs to become a new cement in the foundation of my life.

I don’t believe in forcing emotions to change, and I will not become a liar to myself about what makes my heart hurt and my life difficult, but I will choose to set my mind on what is good, what is beautiful, what is perfect, what is coming from His hand.

Today, I am thankful that Small One and I made it home after a little meltdown on the sidewalk – that was icy, meaning not great terrain for a tantrum – and that I was able to carry him and a heavy sack of groceries without dropping him and all this while being 18-weeks pregnant. I am also thankful that I can pick up my phone and order pork spare ribs that shows up warm and tasty at my door 30 minutes later.

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Wow, you are really fertile, that’s what my neighbor said to me when I told her the story of our now two pregnancies. The creation of life is a complex and impossible combination of timing, hormones and other things I do not understand, and for whatever reason Husband and I don’t have to do much for these things to click.

And it is Advent, and I am thinking because I do not understand why some people conceive children and others cannot, why some people divorce and others stay together, why some are lonely, depressed and anxious while others are not, why some people have abusive childhoods and others loving parents, why some people have illness and others are well, why some people live in war-torn areas and others live in prosperity and ease, so many reasons to ask why, so little understanding.

But I know that pain is life’s great equalizer. We all have it. No one can escape it. 

The causes for pain in each of our lives are different, but pain doesn’t sit on a spectrum. Maybe mental health specialists could give us a hierarchy of pain, stresses and grief, but we know that none of us can plot our sorrow on a graph because our sadness is ours, we live with its ravages and we know that it cannot be compared to another person or situation. 

Yes, fertility is not our issue, but we have others, the things I don’t write about on this blog and share with only a few close friends, and the deepest issues that only pass between Husband and I as we hold each other’s hearts, fears and secrets, and others still that pass from my heart to God’s heart, where he embraces the deepest griefs, and the pain that has no words or even understanding.

And this is what I have found every time I as pour my heart out to him – He is my consolation, his presence is my peace, and the ears of his heart are always listening to my cries. Not one is rejected, not one is ignored. You have kept count of my tossings, David says, put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? 

God respects our pain, he doesn’t put some tears in a bottle while deeming others “unworthy,” he puts your tears in his bottle. All of them. He doesn’t remember some of our griefs and not others because he thinks we should be stronger and deal with it. He counts each one of your tossings. Your pain is written down. 

What do you see in the middle of your deepest difficulties? Is it the image of a heartbroken Father running toward you to grab you, embrace you and draw you into himself? Because he is running toward you with arms open, not always with answers, but always with his presence. 

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I draw near to this truth as life stretches inside of me, as I stretch toward Him and as heaven bends down toward us once again. He drew near to us then, a tiny baby held in the arms of earthly parents but really he is holding all things in his hands, and he is holding me in his hands, he is holding you in his hands. He holds all things in his hands. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

This Advent, let us allow him to be before all things in our lives, let us let him hold all things together in our lives, let us receive his peace again as we are reconciled once more by the blood that flowed when he was born in a stable, lying in the shadow of a bloodied, pain-ridden cross.

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A typhoon has been battering southern Philippines, close to 200 are dead, I cannot imagine the hundreds of thousands more who have lost everything. I was telling Husband last night how the typhoon experience was a normal part of our lives. We could expect a few to come our way every year and at least a few weeks yearly without power and running water. The worst was two weeks, if I remember correctly. Our basement flooded, and we formed assembly lines to bail out the water and toss it out the back. One year our neighbours and friends who lived in the squatter community next door lost their roofs to a typhoon, and I can’t remember how many of them – over 10 – came to our home and stayed there for a day.

Nothing about these experiences were extraordinary to me. I was a child, and typhoons meant we didn’t have to go to school, lots of family games, water fun in the basement and even more time spent reading. Typhoons were fun. The selfish innocence of a child’s mind.

Typhoons are of course not fun, especially if you have a flimsy roof (or no roof) or walls made out of cardboard, and even those who have solid homes will still be devastatingly affected in times like these. And the consequences extend to ruined crops, livelihoods and businesses, in other words the devastation will be felt for years to come.

Dave from the Philippines was our Advent calendar child to pray for last Sunday. He is from Bicol, another region that gets hit with annual typhoons. We prayed for the Philippines, for its children, for Dave, and we pray still for the comfort and solutions that only the Messiah can bring for the people of Mindanao.

We at this meal on Sunday night, not on purpose, I happened to have all the ingredients on hand and a severe need to eat chicken adobo. Every now and then you need to eat food that reminds you of home, of those difficult days made better by sitting down at the dinner table and eating your mother’s chicken curry or tacos or chicken adobo or really, any dish. My Amma was a great cook, and chicken adobo is one of the dishes I remember with fondness. Unlike some of her other dishes – like chicken curry – adobo is not one I have ever tried to make on my own.

It’s a native Filipino dish – I think, don’t hold me to it – full of the classic Pinoy flavours in food, vinegar, salt and sugar. My dad is not a fan of vinegar, so it was significantly toned down in our food if not non-existent, which is why Amma’s adobo is not the typical adobo. But it is still my favourite. Mine unfortunately did not taste like hers. It had a wonderful flavour, but it wasn’t home. It is an easy, cheap meal and one that I think is quite satisfying.

  • Chicken Adobo  (based on a conversation with a Filipino friend in Geneva, Jamie)   I sliced a few cloves of garlic and tossed them into some hot oil in a deep frying pan (or a pot will do). I added seven chicken legs and let it brown a bit on one side, then I turned it over to brown the other side. Then I cracked salt and pepper over the top and sprinkled 1 tablespoon of granulated brown sugar over everything. I added a 1/2 cup of water and let it cook for a minute or two. Then I added 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (it’s what I had, I think white vinegar would be better) and three tablespoons of soy sauce. I stirred it all together, covered it and set a timer for 10 minutes. Every ten minutes I flipped the legs around just so that both sides got to sit in the sauce. I think I let it cook for around 40 minutes (to let the flavours really fill the chicken) with the final 10 minutes without a cover. We at it with brown rice and steamed green beans.
  • A note about the flavours – the essentials here are garlic, sugar, soy sauce and vinegar, but I would say that the proportions are entirely dependent on how you want your adobo to taste. So the one I grew up with had very little vinegar, maybe even no vinegar, and a lot of sugar. Mine has a low to moderate amount of sugar and a low quantity of vinegar because I too am not a vinegar fan. The amount of water is also up to you. I like having a nice thick sauce for the rice and the chicken, so that’s why I added water. It’s not essential, and you could make a drier version of the dish.

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 Before he 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 babies and children of the world today? Does he remember what it was like to be hungry, naked, tired, afraid? 

What would he think of their toys and games, the sleep training books, the swaddling debates and pacifiers? What would he think about their hunger, emaciated limbs and distended bellies? What would he think about their attitudes and tantrums? What would he think about their labor and slavery?

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. 

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When fear rises in a little boy’s heart in the DRC as he hears the sounds of death and guns and bombs, Jesus remembers running with his parents to hide for his life.

When there is no food to eat again and tiny tummies quake with hunger in Somalia, 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 sting of the lash and the nail driven through his wrist and the betrayal of his friends.

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. He didn’t know that his parents had very little financial provision, he didn’t know that someone was going to try and end his life before it had barely even begun and that his first two years would be spent on the run.

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 this corner of Switzerland join with theirs. As a family for the next 24 days, we will have a different country to briefly look at daily and take a few minutes each day to pray for the needs of its children. Because he was a baby, too. He was once a child, and this year this is how we prepare our hearts for the coming of the perfect Messiah who remembers all of our weaknesses and knows all of our pain and came to bring life to everyone who would receive him.

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. 

I’ve updated this post in December 2013 with details about how I made the Advent Calendar.