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God With Us

“It is hard to slow down and breathe and pray in this season. … The season I’m living in doesn’t much feel like the season of Advent. The season I’m living in makes it hard to prepare my heart for Christmas, to say the least, which is rapidly sneaking up on me. There’s not much I need more than a kick in the pants.”

This is a quote from my sister in law’s blog recently. Please read her whole post here:

http://schmexas.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/list-making-advent/

I think of the season of advent in two ways: the real advent which is slowing down, preparing my heart, and being with God and the other stuff like making snow flakes, baking treats, wrapping presents. Both prepare me for Christmas. And I’ve felt like I’m failing in both recently.

I haven’t done the advent readings I hoped to do, haven’t made crafts with the kids, don’t have the decorations made and hung up the way I planned, and we have no cookies to eat right now. That last one may really be for the best in some regards, but I’m feeling lost and sad and, well, behind.

For example, the kids were given some advent calendars with a chocolate for each day. Yesterday we opened numbers 11 and 12. It’s the 17th. So not only are these calendars a far cry from the homemade, daily verse and activity advent calendar we had last year (though I don’t think the kids mind getting a chocolate every day), I can’t even keep up with opening a little door each day.

And sometimes I just need to be a little more proactive. Sometimes I need a kick in the pants.

However, I’m choosing to be ok with the place I’m in right now. I want more, and I know someday we will do more, but right now I choose to not have advent be stressful. I’m finding the ‘more’ in other places like cuddling with my baby, playing with Emery, or napping when I need more sleep because right now those are the important things. Sometimes I forget how sacred the everyday things are, that God is found in those small, ordinary places.

I talk to Myka and Emery about Christmas coming. About Jesus coming and that we are waiting for him. Myka’s first response to that was, “he’s coming here?!” I love that. While I’m not doing daily readings with them, I think they are hearing the message during our various little chats.

Today, I am balancing the important and the urgent by ignoring the housework I ‘should’ be doing and making cookies with Emery ASAP. I need to hang up some laundry and chop up vegetables and start the roast in the crock pot (urgent things that need to be done right away), and then we can make cookies (which are important, especially to Emery). Making cookies is time for the two of us to do something together; it builds our relationship. I’ve been talking about them for a week and the housework or nursing Poppy or play dates keep getting in the way. But not today! Today I keep my word to Emery and we will make cookies. We won’t have as much one-on-one time over the next month or two while Myka is out of school.

Myka has school today and tomorrow. Then there is a three week winter break! And THEN we go to the Maldives for two weeks! That’s a lot of time with everyone together. I will have to get used to having three kids home all day, but I’m hoping we have some really wonderful time together. Maybe we will even read every day. And we might make some cookies.

More importantly, I’m hoping that our life slows down a little when I don’t have to have everyone ready to take Myka to the bus at 7:00. I’m hoping I have at least a couple minutes to myself in the morning to connect with God and my self, to just breathe and settle my spirit. Because just thinking about that makes me feel better. Because I want to take the knowledge that God is with us and have that be the reality of my day.

And what better time to embrace that than in advent.


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Scotland

I think we got a pretty good glimpse of Scotland in the two weeks we were there. Miraculously, it didn’t rain very much at all, and our day trips included seeing Lochness, St. Andrews, Fort William, Mallaig (on the western coast), Glen Coe and the Rannoch moor, Rosslyn chapel, Melrose Abbey, Stirling Castle, Alnwick Castle, the Cairngorms National Park, and Edinburgh Castle. Highlands, lowlands, west coast, east coast, and even a little trip across the border into England!

Edinburgh was a great location to have as a home base. We walked (and walked and walked and..) everywhere. A few of my toes were unenthusiastic about all the walking, and a couple of them are just now recovering. Stephen’s suggestion: wear sneakers – real sneakers (aka – athletic shoes or trainers). Not that I could bring myself to wear them with my skinny jeans. Ha! I was wearing little canvas shoes, not something crazy.

But that reminds me: Jeans! I wore jeans the whole time and I loved it. There was one day it got a little warm, but otherwise I was happy in jeans, a long sleeved shirt and a light scarf. Ahhh….loved it. I miss wearing scarves.

Here is a quick run down of the highlights:
– bus trip to Rosslyn chapel, Melrose Abbey, and Alnwick castle with my mom and her friend
– bus trip to Inverness, Lochness, Glen Coe, Rannoch moor, and the highlands with Stephen
– day trip to Stirling Castle
– walked up to the Edinburgh castle
– trip to Saint Andrews to see friends and we had lunch at Anstruther Fish Bar
– Stephen and I walked for 1 1/2 – 2 hours to find the restaurant where we had our anniversary dinner. It took us 20 minutes to walk home.
– day trip to take a ride on the steam train from Fort William to Mallaig
– the house we stayed in was a perfect location, beautiful, and I felt right at home

I’ll spread the pictures and stories out over a few posts.

After all our fun in Scotland, Stephen had to go back to work, and the kids and I came with the Grandparents to Pennsylvania. We have been visiting family, enjoying thunderstorms, and I can drive!! Somehow, I haven’t been to Target yet, but give me a day or two…

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– Edinburgh castle –


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The liturgical year

Lent begins today.

I’ve been reading The Circle of Seasons, a book my sister-in-law gave to me, and I’m really enjoying it.  It’s one of the books I keep nearby and read as we go through the year, moving through each of the liturgical seasons.  I grew up in a non-denominational, charismatic church, and I didn’t really know anything about liturgy either in a church service or as seasons through the year.

One of the definitions Merriam-Webster has for liturgy is “a customary repertoire of ideas, phrases, or observances.”  A repertoire – something you rely on, go to for reference.  Your repertoire is what you have available to use.  As I go through each day and struggle to just be patient, kind, or gentle with my children, I realize that I need more ‘skills’ in my repertoire.  Liturgy helps me remember that just asking God for help can completely change my day.

I could use more structure in my life in many ways; often I can be too relaxed and dismissive of things.  I procrastinate. I ignore. I forget.  So the liturgical year helps remind me of what is important, my priorities, or rather what I want my priorities to be.

Still, I forgot about lent until yesterday.  Yesterday was Fausnaught Day or Fat Tuesday.  My sister-in-law asked if we ate any doughnuts.  Confused?  Here’s a short explanation:

“Pennsylvania Dutch fasnachts are often made from potato doughnuts, and may be uncoated, powdered with table sugar, or dusted with confectioner’s sugar.”

“Fasnachts were made as a way to empty the pantry of lard, sugar, fat, and butter, which were traditionally fasted from during Lent.”

http://askville.amazon.com/Fausnaught-Day-call-today-day-eat-fatty-doughnuts/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=66236157

Because I forgot, I get to think and pray about what Lent will mean to me today, the first day of Lent.  Better late than never?

Will you be giving something up, changing something, doing anything different during Lent?


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I so love my sister. She is a brilliant writer, an amazing thinker, and a wonderful mother and wife. I remember hearing about her “ludicrous crap” and have actually retold that story to lots of people.

So, what evidence do you have of God in your life?

Texas Schmexas

When I was an undergraduate student up at Houghton College, I had a certain English professor who was relatively well known for writing “Evidence?” on students’ papers.

Over and over.

And over.

It was shorthand for “You’re making some claims here that you aren’t supporting–what’s your evidence for saying this?”

His insistence on evidence was just one of the quirks that made him quite scary to most students, but I always liked him for his honesty and his unwillingness to let students be mediocre.

In fact, his writing on one of my freshman papers that my thesis was (I kid you not) “ludicrous crap” ended up becoming somewhat legendary. Years later, his daughter exclaimed, “That was you?!?”

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Patriotic attire…

In the United States, people are viewed as patriotic if they wear red, white, and blue clothing.  Or wear a small American flag on their lapel.  Or wear a flag patterned fabric.  This typically comes out for special occasions such as Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Flag Day, you get the idea.

Here in Saudi Arabia it is a little different.  They have a national attire.  An official outfit.  And they wear it quite regularly.  You’ve probably seen pictures of it.  Have you ever seen any Middle Eastern royalty or official dignitary?  They come in all shapes and sizes.  You can even get designer attire.

A thobe or thawb.

Looks like a robe.  But it is a white lightweight fabric that goes down to the ankles and has long sleeves.  It also includes a head scarf, keffiyeh or ghutrah, and a cord wrapped twice around the top of the head, the agal.

Men wear these quite regularly.  They are everywhere at work.  They look quite comfortable.  Some people wear them all the time, some people occasionally, and some never. 

I have seen plenty of Saudi flags around, but not on clothing.  This is their patriotic outfit.  This is how they connect to their beliefs and to their country.  They are closely tied together here. 

Of course we have all heard of the attire women wear.  It’s in the news quite regularly. 

The abaya.

In public all women must be covered, this also includes wearing a scarf to cover your head.  Foreign women are given more leeway on this issue.  At beaches and some resorts they don’t have to wear an abaya, but for the most part they are everywhere.  Conservative Muslim women will also wear a niqab.

After a couple weeks of being here, I went to a work dinner at one of the compounds.  Typically, inside the expatriate compounds women are not required to wear the abaya.  So for one of the first times, I not only saw women, remember I work in an all male environment, but I saw women wearing western clothes.  I was surprised that it surprised me.  Guess I had gotten used to seeing women covered up at the grocery store.