Monday, November 25, 2013

Far As the Curse Is Found

"This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live." (Deut. 30:19)

Last week an acquaintance of mine posted a raw and honest request for prayer. The need was (as it almost always is) for healing, for freedom, and for restoration. For the reversal of the curse.

I prayed for her and for her beloved child. I thought of them as I woke up the next day, singing a song I often sing in the morning. "Oh Lord, you have been good, you have been faithful to all generations. Oh Lord, your steadfast love and tender mercy has been our salvation."

For years, as our family suffered from terrible illness, I had to say out loud that He is good. That His love and mercy is our salvation. That the Lord was fighting for us and that He has never lost a single battle.

It seemed, during those dark and painful years, that the illness wasn't just ours. It felt like the unwanted legacy of generations. As we took tiny steps toward health, it seemed sometimes like there were burdens of centuries weighing us down. Each step felt heavy, like walking with feet of clay.

"....choose life, so that you and your children my live."

In the jungles of Peru, the Aguaruna people were, for hundreds of years, a warrior society. The fathers woke up their little sons before dawn, and recited the names of their enemies until list upon list was memorized. The names of those to be murdered were seared into the minds of tiny four-year-old children. There was only one choice set before an Aguaruna boy. That choice was to bring death to his enemies. An anthropologist  studied the group during the 1930's and determined that based on the rate of killings, the people would self-annihilate before long.

As the gospel message came and the Scriptures began their work in the hearts of the people, a change took place. The change began with one of the first Christians among the Aguaruna. He stood up in a gathering of men and asked, "Does an Aguaruna ever forgive?" They answered with a resounding shout, "No!"

But this one man, moved by the Holy Spirit, went to his enemy, a man who was marked to be his next victim, and asked forgiveness. Just like that, the cycle was broken for that family. The healing of that nation had begun.

The truth of God's Word changed everything for the Aguaruna.  The truth that they were made for life, not for death. The truth that they were the beloved of Jesus. The truth that they had the strength to stop the cycle of revenge.

And the stories in the wee hours of the morning, as the fathers murmured to their children the things that mattered most, changed. No longer did morning dawn with a litany of hate. Forgiveness had come.

Death to life.

It can happen in one generation, in one person, and it can change everything.

I asked my son yesterday if he could describe the word "epigenetics" in one simple sentence. He couldn't.  Look it up, because it's complex and still a mystery to scientists. But Caleb said if he were to define it, he would use the words "overlying," "environmental," and "reversible." The prefix "epi" means "over," so the word is literally, "over-genetics."

Epigenetics was discovered as a result of World War II. The survivors of concentration camps were found to produce offspring with high incidences of disease, including metabolic disorders and mental illness. In other words, the survivors were alive, but their genetic code was altered by trauma. They carried within their bodies the seeds of death, not of life. Genetics are the body's operating code. The operating code was damaged in the parents, and that resulted in harm to succeeding generations.

But epigenetics is reversible. Scientists don't understand why, but the damaged genes can be altered in just one generation.

The Aguaruna Christians, filled with new life in the remote jungles of Peru, know why.

Anybody who has entered into combat against addiction, and won, knows why.

In my family, we know why.

It doesn't mean the struggle is over, or that life has become simple and easy,  Every day is a day to choose life over death. The choice is made in a hundred small ways.

When I lettered the words from "Joy to the World" on our chalkboard last week, I remembered the lines of the song. I had not realized until then how much depth is in these lyrics:

"No more let sin and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground.
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found."

It's why He came. It's why I love Christmas.

And it's why I pray, with hope, for health and restoration. For everyone. For the ends of the earth. For each precious child.

Because with Jesus, nothing is impossible.

....I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live, and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." (Deut. 30: 19b-20)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Christmas House 2013

For a week now, Anna Kate and I have been trying to resist decorating for Christmas. We finally caved two days ago, bit by bit, as we started sprinkling the house with the few decorations that we store inside. This year we can't have a big tree. Malachi would pull it right over. We can't even hang the stockings. We tried, and that lasted about five minutes. But the other night I got so excited, thinking about the delight of a little child at Christmas. The line "Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow will find it hard to sleep tonight," filled me with gratitude for our tiny tot. He's busy, messy, and loud, and he still doesn't let me sleep much. But he's the best little guy in the world, and we are so thankful for him. So what if everything beautiful will have to be above shoulder-height this year? Totally worth it.

Here's a short tour of what we've done so far:

Julia will be home this weekend. She will eat these in no time flat. In the mean time, they're gorgeous in vintage silver urns.

I snapped a quick foto of the linen stockings on their antlers.
Moments later, I had to put them away.
Too hazardous with little grabbing hands.

Some of the presents are on top of the cabinet.
We watched a family movie from Christmas 2010, and I was struck by how much I like the way I wrapped presents that year. Simple and cheap, and they match my house. So I dug out those supplies and we're doing the same look again.

Our cabinet. The lower shelf has been re-displayed so as not to appear interesting to a toddler.
This piece is one-of-a-kind, but our piano bars have the same look. And they're both still for sale!
If you forget how nice they are, see them here.

The dining room centerpiece.
I got the rosemary tree at Trader Joe's. It was supposed to be for my son, to help with concentration during his endless studying. But it's so lovely on our table. I think he'll only get a few sprigs. 

I covered up the tiny Christmas balls with acorns.
I prefer the acorns. In fact, the reds and purples of the ornaments aren't my colors,
and if anyone wants them, they're yours.

Here's what I use for wrapping:
Butcher paper from my Gramma
A giant roll of brown kraft paper, about 3 inches wide (from Goodwill, I think)
Brown and silver labels from the dollar section at Target
Home-made tags with burlap string

I like packaging very simple.
I don't go for anything patterned or expensive.
But after wrapping about eight presents, I decided I could branch out a tiny bit.
I scalloped the ends of the kraft paper for the girls' gifts, you can see one on the left.
I started tearing the kraft paper length-wise for some presents.
For the little gift on top, I made a "bow" by curling strips of paper and stapling them together in the middle.

In our living room, I was inspired by the printable we found  here.
Anna Kate and I have been reading Jess and Monica's blog at East Coast Creative,
that's where we found this. As soon as I realized how much printer ink it would take (look at all the background!) I decided to freehand it. It worked out great. It's not as perfect-looking as the printable, and not everybody has a little chalkboard just sitting around, but for me this was fun and easy.

I wonder how long the candy canes will last?

Have a peaceful, simple and joy-filled month, everyone.
And let me know if you have any more ideas for a toddler-friendly Christmas house.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Too Much Squash

This week I said to Anna Kate,
"I am getting completely sick of squash."
"So am I!" was her reply.

While this pan of squash was roasting in the oven, Nate came home.
"This house smells like pumpkin all the time now," he said.
"I'm not sure I like it."

It's so much work to not waste food.
I have diced, seeded, roasted, boiled, mashed and pureed about 15 squash and pumpkins this year.
They tasted great at first.  The pumpkin bread with cinnamon butter was especially delicious.

Now I'm trying to freeze it or give it away.
If you're hungry for squash soup, come on over.
I've got plenty.

(My recipe for Butternut Squash Soup is under "Dinner and Dessert" in my sidebar. Please forgive the strange font array. I don't know why it does that, it's not how I type it. The secret ingredient is the grated nutmeg on top. I buy whole nutmegs at the Anoka Co-op; they are about 50 cents each).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Breath Prayers

 Malachi enjoys the Bible and Strong's Concordance.
He mostly enjoys taking out pages.

Yesterday Nate stayed home for half a day, so I went to the morning study at my church
for the third time this year.
We are going through a series of spiritual practices, led by Ruth Haley Barton, and based on her book Sacred Rhythms.

I almost never buy new books. I think the world is full of excellent books, and I wonder at people who continue to write. Don't they know that somebody has already written To Kill a Mockingbird and How Green Was My Valley? I am irritated at the plethora of sub-par Christian writings.

But this book. This book does not bug me (a lot of things bug me, you may have noticed).
Of course, it's not a novel. That helps. It's a guide.
I didn't realize I needed a guide.

The first spiritual practice was to name my desire for God.
This was so difficult.
How do I name my desire for God in a few simple words?
I think I have found the words, words I can easily breathe.

And I realize I have done this before.

When I had my first babies, I was young, immature and overwhelmed.
I began to cry from my heart (and sometimes, just cry):
"Help me Jesus."
That was my breathing, all day long, in a time of exhaustion and loneliness.

Then the years became busy, but somehow not so difficult.
My husband I and grew up, and we learned how to parent and do life together.
Until what we had constructed tipped over into a chaos of illness
and joblessness and a whole new level of despair.

Then my cry became,
"Come, Holy Spirit."
And He did.

He hears my heart's cry.
The simple words that I speak, that I breathe, from my heart into His,
are stored and treasured and always, always heard.

"You might think that your woundedness or your sinfulness is the truest thing about you. You might think that your giftedness or your personality type or your job title or your identity as husband or wife, mother or father, somehow defines you. But in reality, it is your desire for God and your capacity to reach for God that is the deepest essence of who you are." (Ruth Haley Barton)

An early snowfall makes a snow sculpture out of each object.
I will always think of these as "Grampa's chairs," since he often sat here and talked with Nate.

A tiny birdhouse with a fat cap of snow.

Early sunlight on new snow.
"Joy unspeakable and full of glory,
and the half has never yet been told."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Loss and Gain

This week has been full of strong emotions, silence, stories and tears. Nate's dad, Herb, passed from this life to the next on Tuesday, November 5th. Suddenly the illness and the difficulties of the last few years are over. We simply remember the way he used to be, the energy and drive he had, the love he gave.

I am finding it's true that the words, "I am so sorry for your loss" are immensely comforting.

Loss. It's a sad word. It means that there was something beautiful to lose.

For that we are grateful.

My husband and his mom agreed that Nate should build his dad's casket. There wasn't much time. It needed to be finished by this afternoon.

While he worked, he listened to "Love and War and the Sea in Between," Josh Garrels' most recent release. The music played loudly, the bandsaw growled along, and my talented husband blessed his father with a final gift.

Nate and Malachi

A father's love. "For he himself is our peace." (Eph. 2:14)

A son's love.

Hard-working hands, just like his dad's.

Grampa with two of his beloved grandchildren, June 2011.

I'll say this. Life is too short to waste on meanness. This week we've all been gentle with each other. It's been easy to be kind, even though we're tired and sad. The gentleness reminds us of Nate's dad. It's like a parting gift from him.

Here's an epic song. Perfect Christmas gift, by the way.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Baby Elephant

Our week:
~A quiet visit with Gramma and Grampa Murphy on Wednesday. We got to tell Grampa how much we love him. He wasn't able to talk, but in the last day or so he has spoken a bit.
~Anna Kate and I came down with the flu. We had a miserable day of it, trying to care for a toddler while almost unable to walk. It's been a decade since I've had to take care of a baby while I was sick. I'm so glad we were only sick for one day.
~At the end of our sick day, we decided we had just enough strength to walk around part of our block with our baby elephant. He was a big hit. This is a costume I made 17 years ago for my friend Maryjo's little girl, and Maryjo graciously gave me the costume after Kendyl wore it. Every one of my parents' grandkids from Julia on down dressed up as the baby elephant.
~Last weekend we saw our big boys when they came to visit their Grampa, and today we will get Julia home for the weekend. She wants to visit Grampa too.
~Nate and I spend lots of time talking about his Dad, remembering some of the ways he has blessed us. We keep the Kleenex handy in every room of the house now.

Malachi Jude, the skeptical elephant. His head is so big that the velcro wouldn't stay fastened under his chin.

I love these baby elephant ears.  And I love the baby elephant! 

Malachi was bent on impressing his big brother Isaac. He said all his words, played peek-a-boo and So Big, walked, danced, and generally showed off everything he knew.

Every year save one, since she was eight years old, Anna Kate has been a prairie girl for All Saint's Day (haha, we aren't fans of Halloween...but we love to dress up). This is her current prairie dress. Malachi was deciding that her puzzle was better than his. She was so weak and sick on the 31st that she didn't put on any costume. Honestly, we could hardly drag ourselves the last hundred yards home.

There have been many tears this week, but also some sweet days of making new memories.
Blessings on all of you supportive friends. Thank you for your words of love and encouragement, and for your prayers on our behalf.