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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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Guest post by the house guest

My mom is here visiting for a couple weeks over the holidays, and I wanted to share her perspective on this crazy place with you!  Enjoy!

 

I am having an awesome time – of course, just because I am with the kids and grandkids, it would be awesome anywhere!  But, this is a very interesting culture.  Very friendly, helpful, loving people… at least superficially.   I don’t know what they are really thinking or saying!  LOL!

Stephen is working Christmas day… same day as all the others over here – although, what I found interesting was that EVERYONE wished me a “Merry Christmas”!  And I always returned the greeting!  🙂  The Christmas dinner went quite well!  There were two other families here, each with two children.  So we had 7 adults and 6 kids ranging in age from 9 months to 9 years in Kelsie and Stephen’s apartment.  Stephen had deep fried 3 turkeys the night before and we made mashed potatoes, gravy, and 5 different kinds of cookies/treats and the other families brought a broccoli dish, a squash dish, cooked carrots, rolls, and cranberry salad.  It was all soooo good!

We still haven’t opened presents with the kids because Stephen has been working and will be off Friday and Saturday.  We will have our Christmas on Friday when he has off.  We will also be doing some sightseeing those two days.  Even though Saudi really discourages tourism, there are some things of interest.

This morning Kelsie, the kids, and I went (on the little bus) to the grocery store.  Fairly simple.  The bus arrives at THIS time… you are on it or you miss the grocery store.  The kids HAVE to be seat belted, so you have to find a seat that has a seat belt that actually works.  The adults-no problem-doesn’t matter… LOL!  This is THE grocery store bus that the grocery store sends to the compound to pick up customers!  I think my Giant at home should start this service.  The bus drops you off at the door, picks you up at the door, baggers load the groceries on the bus, the bus driver drops you off at your door at home and unloads your groceries!  Wow!  Not all of life is that easy over here.  LOL!  The grocery store had many familiar items in it and many that said “imported from USA”, but were actually products made in some other country…. funny!  I got some Arabic coffee and some Arabic pastries to bring home.  I forget to take my phone and take photos, but there was a sign that said no photos.  There were lots of security cameras, though.  It was a somewhat normal grocery store except for the pricing was all in SARs (Saudi Arabian Riyals)

Stephen will work until 4PM today, and when he gets off today, we will have dinner here at their apartment with a friend, Dean Sweigart, from Elizabethtown, PA!!  Haha – on the other side of the world – someone from my country, state, county, town!!

An interesting thing here is that this compound has a wall about 12′ high.  To get in the gate, each vehicle (bus, private car, company  truck, taxi) has to stop at the first guard house.  A guard comes out with a mirror on a long wand to walk around the vehicle and look underneath, nod approval, and then open this HUGE 12′ solid steel gate.  On to the next guard house….  They check to see if you are supposed to be on this compound and then they open a second 12′ solid steel gate.

When they have the call to prayer, one of the girls here said it sounds like zombies… it really does, and it happens 5 or 6 times a day.

If I have some details wrong, Stephen and Kelsie can correct the misinformation!  LOL

 


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Advent Calendar

I made an advent calendar this year for the kids and I to go through.  I used paper towel tubes, cardboard and packing paper, and home made flour glue.  A little bit too much work, but I wanted to try making my own glue, and the kids Love poking through the paper each day!  I organized little activities through out the month, so we do a craft or read a new book or make cookies each day.  It has been fun!  We haven’t done every craft or made cookies every time our calendar told us to make them, but that’s ok.

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One of our first activities was to make a festive garland for our arch. Myka did a great job helping me loop and tape construction paper.  Putting things up around the house in addition to having an advent calendar helps us remember what season it is.  It’s easy to forget Christmas is coming.  There are no store displays, snow in the forecast, or sweaters being pulled out of storage.  We are going outside more because it’s cool enough now, so it feels more like spring!  I’m glad I thought ahead and put some reminders in place so we don’t forget what we are really celebrating.

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our December so far

Things we have been doing this month:

– Skyping with people.  I love technology.  At least I love that it allows us to easily talk to friends and relatives on the other side of the world.

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– Taking bus trips to Le Cafe where we share a chocolate croissant, and I get hot chocolate.  Then we go to a playground across the street. If you look closely you can see the ocean in the background of this picture.  It is a beautiful view, and I’ve heard you can see dolphins sometimes.

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– Going behind our building where there is some grass and a shaded area.  Myka and Emery play with friends, draw with chalk, ride our scooter, run, and blow bubbles.  It is wonderful to have an area conveniently located where we can do those things.

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– Playing inside.  Emery has been building some awesome towers.  And climbing in boxes.

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– Going to the playground = lots of fun. The sand that gets in our shoes = not so much fun.

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– We draw on the window.  Because it’s Christmas time, so we do crazy things.

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– I went to a lunch while Myka and Emery stayed with our amazing neighbors!  This is my cape (aka – abaya) blowing in the wind on my walk from the front gate of our compound back to our building.

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– Snuggling.

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well that didn’t last long..

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Our felt tree is dieing.  Emery pulled on our felt Christmas tree, and it got all saggy and sad looking.  Myka didn’t mind and has continued to play with it, but today it came off the wall because I didn’t want any thumb tacks ending up on the floor.  It was only on the wall for a short time, but we did get to share the fun with a friend.  It can still be decorated.  It just has to lay on the floor instead of standing upright. Maybe I’ll glue it onto a large piece of cardboard.  We could lean that against a wall.

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Today we are enjoying Stephen being home!  It’s a two day weekend for him, and that feels like an extravagance.  Those one days weekends, while necessary to maintain sanity, are so incredibly short.  The memories of three day weekends tease me.  We appreciated them, but now we would Adore them!

We flew a kite this morning.  I am loving Saudi winters.  It is beautiful out!  Locals are wearing fluffy coats, but this is t-shirt and jeans (plus abaya…) weather.  So after a trip to the grocery store, we grabbed our kite and drove to a grassy area near a playground to enjoy the breeze.  Eventually we will have to deal with stagnant air, dirty bits of rain, and then the scorching heat will return, but for now the sky is blue, the breeze is just the right temperature, and we can enjoy the outdoors.

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Single Lonely Guys

Last week my sister told me I needed to write a blog post about the Christmas party I hosted last week.  She writes a blog over at TexasSchmexas and it is all about community.  She gets her interest in community honestly, our parents were always hosting visitors in our house, whether it be for a social evening or as a place to stay for an extended time.  My wife and I also focus much of our lives around the concept of community, our last house we purchased was bought primarily due to its layout and ease of hosting people.

On Christmas day, I hosted the “First Annual Single Lonely Guys” Christmas Party.

This year I unfortunately was spending Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years’ and 3 birthdays 5,000 miles away from my family.  This did not stop me from celebrating.

My good friend David and I decided to host a party.  David lives in a small studio apartment and I just moved into my house so it’s full of boxes.  We needed to find a bigger place for the festivities, I am currently “cat sitting” for some friends who are back in the States for a couple weeks, so we used their house.  They have satellite TV with a DVR, I was able to record an NFL football game for us to watch.

I sent out invites to a few of the guys I knew would be around and asked them to forward it to anyone they knew.  I had no idea how many people, if any, would come and if no one showed up, David and I were going to have fun.

We got a count of about 10 people and stopped by the restaurant in our compound to ask them to bake a turkey for us.  No turkey.  L “so what can you make us for 10 people?”, we asked. 

We ended up with a platter of roast beef, mashed potatoes with gravy, veggies with cheese sauce, and an apple pie.  All for 250 SAR ($65 USD).  Not bad, especially with plenty of left overs.

We had a great time.  We had some new people show up.  Most of them I had never met before.  Some of them had just arrived in Saudi Arabia, some had been here for a couple years.

Community can be found EVERYWHERE.  When I came over here I wouldn’t have expected I would be hosting a party for a bunch of us “single lonely guys”.  It was absolutely worth the effort and work.  It gave us all a chance to share some fun stories of life here in the sandbox.  It made sure we weren’t at home alone on this wonderful holiday.  

We are planning on getting together for New Years.


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counting

This evening, as Christmas draws to a close and I sit planning ahead, I’m doing some counting.

 

8 days until I see Stephen.

14 days until we fly to Saudi Arabia.

 

Christmas is all about hope, new beginnings, and joy.  Merry Christmas to each of you and may the year ahead be filled with the Spirit of Christmas!