There’s a map on my wall
Of the places I’ve been
Of more places I still have to go
And its colors show much
Of the things I have learned
Of more things that I still need to know

  
There’s a shelf full of books
That hold stories I’ve loved
And some stories that fractured my heart
All their neatly squared spines
Reveal well-ordered thoughts
Conceal feelings that ripped me apart

  
There’s a child in her bed
Who is so much of me
Just as a much something I can’t explain
And I watch as she dreams
This small, vulnerable self
Filled with life that’s too big to contain

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I need to write a story

Once upon a time there was a princess in a castle
(Or would a tiny hut be snug and cleaning be less hassle?
(But can a princess live in just a tiny, tidy hut?
(Is tiny hut redundant? Can huts be huge or what?)))

AHEM

Once a princess lived in a small hut, all clean and cute
(Why is it that tiny things are always cute to boot?
(And why when we mean “also” do we mention someone’s shoes?
(Oh! The princess could solve crimes with magic boots that give her clues!)))

AHEM

A princess got a hut to start her own detective service
(Though his child owning a business would likely make a king quite nervous
(Or are there progressive monarchs? It might not be oxymoronic.
(Jumbo shrimp! An open secret! (ooh…that would be ironic))))

AHEM

So king moves detective daughter to a hut (gossip prevention)
But because she’s out of place, her magic boots draw much attention
(Is there a moral to this story or are we just poking fun?
(Speaking of fun, I could grab lunch with friends, sit in the sun…))

AHEM

So there’s a princess, worried father, magic boots, and crimes to solve
Boots give clues, cases are cracked, a hut is purchased, fame evolves
So…the king learns that the things we fear sometimes can be our friend
And you shouldn’t be ashamed of your weird kids. Yeah,that. The End.

  

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The Final 2015 Book List

  
If I share it with you on January 4 of 2016, it’s not THAT late. Plus, I squeezed one in there on that last day of the year, so here we go!  You can see the first two installments of 2015’s books here and here.

Remember! These are not all recommendations. In fact, it was a pretty blah year of books for me in general. But I’m going to the effort of finding links for the books I think you ought to check out. The others get a passing mention…

  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple – Well-written and pretty interesting read. Contemporary sort of YA, with a nice look at a complicated mother/daughter relationship and ultimately at being exceptional in an ordinary world. Didn’t change my world, but I enjoyed reading it.
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer – Not bad. YA distopian Cinderella story. Pretty interesting world, pretty solid characters. But somehow I just never did get into it. Maybe someday I’ll read the rest of the series? But it wasn’t compelling enough to hunt them down.
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – This is as good as everyone says it is. It’s just not my thing. Historical fiction of the serious, war-torn Europe variety. I forced myself to finish it out of respect for the wonderful characters and the tapestry he wove with them. It had some lovely moments, but still somehow didn’t lodge in my heart. Probably a me problem.
  • Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee – This is better than you’ve been told. You have to think of it as a totally different novel than Mockingbird and just enjoy it for what it is. It’s not the best book ever written (That’s probably Mockingbird.) but it’s got its own genius. I absolutely LOVED the first half, one of the best coming home accounts I’ve ever read. The second half gets lost in a lot of talk about people’s thoughts, but it sheds some interesting light on how people actually thought. I was glad I had the chance to read it.
  • 24 Girls in 7 Days by Alex Bradley – Ridiculous contemporary YA about your typical geek boy trying to figure out life and also score a date. The main character was like able enough that I read the whole book. The plot was barely worthy of the word, but I don’t think it was meant to be. There’s really nothing else to say about this book.
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell by Susanna Clark – This book is genius. Seriously, it’s a massive commitment, but you should make it. A book about the 18th Century, written in the 21st Century, but in a style that makes you feel like you’re reading Dickens. Almost. Because it’s so much better. Real magicians. Real magic. Real history. Except not, obviously, because magic. Its tone is delightfully playful, and Jonathan Strange is the most wonderful character I’ve met in years. After you’ve read it, watch the miniseries. It’s a lovingly accurate rendition.
  • The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily by Dino Buzzati (readers’ guide by Lemony Snicket) – This is apparently an actual old book originally written in Italian. It is about exactly what the title says it is about, and therefore is the most wonderfully weird little book you can imagine. It only takes about an hour to read, and it’s worth it for the poems and the illustrations alone. The whole thing is absurd and funny, and if you can find it, you should spend an hour on it. You won’t be sorry.
  • The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde – Super fun and clean YA about an alternate version of magical England and a girl who is NOT magical, but rather a manger of magicians. I listened to the audio book, which I think was the best way to ingest this. I’m afraid some of the jokes wouldn’t have been funny if they hadn’t been read in the proper way. As it was, it was hilarious and fun, and you should check it out for your kids. There are sequels I haven’t read. Mostly because I’m waiting to find the audiobooks. 
  • The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen – I wanted to like this book. I sort of did. Strong female lead. Interesting world with some mysterious connection to the real world. I wanted to find out more about that. So I finished the book and started on the sequel. But then it just kept getting darker and weirder, and I just didn’t want to read it anymore. So. Sadly, not a recommend.
  • Ross Poldark by Winston Graham – My dip into historical fiction of the slightly more romantic variety. Still more history than romance, thankfully. I liked it. The main characters were contrary and the author manages to keep out a lot of the modern day sensibility that usually makes these things boring or irritating. It has a full complement of interesting characters, and is about a point in history I knew nothing about, so that was a bonus. I plan to look into more by the author.
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon – Contemporary YA about a girl raised in a bubble due to her medical condition. All the expected yearning for a real life, and then the new neighbor boy next door.  Nothing world-changing, but not bad as the genre goes. The end was a cheat, though. I don’t know how I wanted it to end, but what the author did robbed the rest of the book. So, this one goes on the No pile.
  • Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge – an alternate rebelling of Beauty and the Beast. Sort of interesting main character and sort of interesting world. Ultimately not all that, though, and just enough sexy stuff that I wouldn’t give it to my daughter. Which was disappointing. I’m always looking for good fairytale rebelling a for my kids. This one didn’t make the cut.
  • Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier – I’m a big fan of Marillier, have read most of her stuff. This one is strictly mystery solving in her usual old Celtic world. I really liked it. It was different and interesting, and though I’m not a huge fan of mystery, the development of the (strictly platonic) relationship between the two main characters was enough to keep me hooked.
  • The Court of Fives by Kate Elliot – YA fantasy. Pretty good. I’ll probably eventually read the sequels because I like the genre and it was decently well written. Otherwise, though, not much to say about it. 
  • The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason – Sci-fi, strong female lead, spaceships, other planets, alien politics, and a tournament in which women fight women. So. Yeah. It was alright. I read most of it on the NY subway, so it now has a weird place in my heart, but as a book, it’s not much.
  • Defy and Ignite by Sara B Larson – More YA fantasy, this time about a girl who has pretended to be a boy and is one of the Prince’s guards. You get the idea. I read both books, but honestly, though they’re readable, they were a bit boring. I haven’t picked up the third book yet.
  • Lost Stars by Claudia Gray – This is a YA novel set in the Star Wars universe. I read it for obvious reasons. It was a little overly simplistic, but I was really excited for the new movie, so it was fun to read. It did have a little sex in it, though it wasn’t the main focus, so I didn’t pass it on to my kids.
  • My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins – A collection of short stories by a lot of romance authors, all little love stories set around the holidays. It’s not my usual thing, but after such a long string of mediocre YA fantasy/scifi stuff, it was a really nice read. Just what I needed in the rush of the last few weeks.
  • Bird Box by Josh Malerman – This is straight up end-of-the-world horror, but it’s not as graphic as most, and it is eery and thoughtful and really cool. It’s short. I read it in only a couple of days, and I really enjoyed it. It had creepy elements but wasn’t that scary to me because it felt more like a study in what-if than an actually plausible scenario. Not a bad way to end the year.
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After Christmas

We did it! We did Christmas. For better or for worse, it’s done, and now we can move on. Are you ready?

Just now, I’m giving myself permission to think about the new year. Not The New Year. Just the new year. I have some fun things for you. My completed book list from 2015. This last six months of reading was pretty blah, but I think I may have found THE book of the year just yesterday. I’ll let you know. I found the best storytelling game for kids. And I have a weird host of weird ideas for new stories and poems. We’re going to make January silly and fun, no matter how gross it is outside.

In the meantime, I’ll share with you what I was working on last week (besides last-minute shopping and wrapping and cookie consuming).  

Nate was asked to speak at our church on Sunday, and since we like nothing better than a chance to work together, he asked me to do some storytelling as a part of his message. It was so much fun. I think sometimes we forget that the stories in the Bible are stories. But when we remember, they are even more powerful. These particular stories are all about what happened AFTER Christmas. First, what I wrote when I was figuring the stories out, then the podcast of the actual storytelling, which wasn’t a reading, so it takes its own course. 

—————

She had the baby.

From the moment the angel came to see her, she had thought of nothing but that day. The Birth. And now it had happened.

It was a wild night. Breathing through contractions in the barn. Trying to focus on the smell of the animals, on the feel of Joseph’s hand, on the sounds of a city packed full of people. Trying to focus on anything but the pain.

And then the baby came. Her son. Her little boy.

 And he was perfect. And she was filled with joy as she wrapped him tightly and laid him in the only available bassinet, the animals’ feeding trough.

She watched him lying there asleep, and that’s when it hit her. This was only the beginning. This day she had planned for and prepared for and wished for and feared. This was only the first day. Now she had to raise a son. THE son.

How on earth…?

There was barely time to feel overwhelmed before the shepherds showed up with their story of angels and bright lights and words of hope. They were so excited. Their excitement was contagious, and her fears receded as she listened to them talk and watched the awe on their faces as they looked down at her child. How could her heart be heavy when God had sent hosts of angels to greet their son? When he wanted the whole world to know that this night was good news of great joy for all people?

So she tried to hold on to that moment. To tuck it away in her heart and remember exactly how their faces shone, exactly how Joseph smiled, exactly how certain and secure she felt.

Because after a while they left, went out into the city to tell everyone what had happened, and then Mary and Joseph were just two people in a barn with a baby, trying to catch a few precious hours of sleep in between feedings. And in the quiet darkness of a 3 am feeding, the fears crept back in. The feeling of inadequacy. And a vague dread she couldn’t even put a name to.

The days and weeks passed. She got used to the uneven rhythm of feeding a baby and changing him and cuddling him to sleep. Joseph finally found them a house to stay in, and they moved out of the barn. He picked up odd jobs and they made ends meet.

 The shepherds came back to visit from time to time. She was always glad to see them. They reminded her of her happiest moment, her most peaceful time. The heaviness in her heart didn’t go away, though. It was always with her, and sometimes the shepherds and their blissful excitement grated on her nerves a little. They seemed to think that now that the Messiah was here everything was going to be miraculously transformed.

But Mary had to change the baby’s diapers, and every time she did, she couldn’t help thinking that it was a long way from here to a new world of freedom for her people.

Finally the time came when the law said they needed to go to the temple to present their first born son to God, a reminder that all firstborns were his. They would do the offering for her purification, too. She was finally healed up, on her feet, and back to normal, or at least as close to it as she would ever be. So they went.

 Jesus was nearly six weeks old.

Traveling with a baby wasn’t easy, but the journey felt significant, and after so many days of endless repetitive tasks, it was good to feel that they were doing something important.

Walking into the temple of God with the Son of God in her arms made Mary tremble all over. Joseph was a steady presence by her side, but she could sense his emotion as well.

No one else seemed to notice anything, though. They were just one more young couple with a new baby to be processed. Another task in a busy day for the priests and temple workers.

Then, as they crossed the temple courts, an old man came over to them. He wasn’t wearing the robes of a priest, but he had wisdom and righteousness written all over his face. The moment he looked into Mary’s eyes, she knew that he knew.

His face was full of joy.

With trembling hands, he reached out for her baby, and even though it made her a little nervous, she handed the boy over. The old man cradled Jesus in his arms and began to praise God.

She would never forget his words:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all the nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Mary felt a thrill of wonder pass through her. It was another perfect moment, a beautiful confirmation that all the Angel had said was true. Her little Jesus really was the Messiah, the Son of God, and God was going to work everything out.

Once again, she tried to tuck this moment into her heart, remembering how quickly her peace had faded after the shepherds left.

And then the old man met her eyes over the head of her baby, cradled in his arms. He held his look steady, and his face was full of compassion as he said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”

Mary felt as if the piercing had already begun. The vague dread that had hung over her since this started crystallized into a horrible understanding.

Her son was born to set her people free. Which meant that for every person who loved him, someone else would hate him. And those would be the people in power.

Her baby was six weeks old, and already she knew she would have to face the worst thing any mother could face. She was going to have to watch her son suffer.

* * * * *

Anna had been a widow for so long, she could barely remember any other life.  

She knew she had been a child once, simple and carefree. She knew she had been a young wife, full of hope. But both of those seemed like other people, perhaps people she had heard about in a story.

The hope had been cut short. Her husband had died after only a few years of marriage, and she had been left with no one.

The obvious thing to do would have been to get married again. To have kids. To lead a normal life as a normal part of the community, but that never happened.

Instead she went often to the temple, to worship and to pray. To talk to the people who came through its courts.

At first many times a week. Then every day. Then she would stay all day.

The woman who had no family, no true home of her own, took the people of God as her family, made the temple of God her home.

And the years went by. And she lived and lived and lived. Days and weeks and months of being all alone, and yet never alone, becoming less and less like other women her age.

Eighty-four years later, she was one of a kind, and she never left the temple at all. She just stayed there, day and night, worshipping, fasting, praying, listening to God.

And she had started to hear him pretty clearly by now.

Everyone knew she was a prophet. That she could see clearly how the commands and promises of God applied to right now. People listened to her, and by now even came to her to ask her about their lives.

These people that had become her family now looked to her to fulfill an important role. She was no one’s mother but everyone’s grandmother, old and wise and full of God’s words.

The day the baby Messiah came into the temple, held in his mother’s arms, was the absolute crowning moment of her long, strange, wonderful life.

Her dear friend Simeon, who knew he would live to see the Messiah born, was the first to spot the little family. When he held that baby in his arms and gave him his blessing, Anna’s eyes filled with tears. She knew how much this moment meant to him. So many times they had talked about the hope that was coming. She knew the joy he felt, and the freedom. Now he was free to go, to stop waiting endlessly and go to his peaceful rest. Anna was eighty-four years old. She felt in every one of her bones how much he longed for that, and she thought her heart would burst with happiness for her friend.

And then she looked around at the temple full of people. Those who worked there. Those who had just come for the day, to fulfill the law, to worship their God.

Her family.

And now the hope of her family had come. The one who would give her loved ones freedom. The one who would save her people.

She gave thanks to God with all her heart.

And then she couldn’t help herself. She went up to everyone who was there and told them the good news. They had all come to this place for the same reason. They were looking for redemption.

She just had to tell them that their redemption was here. Today. With them. In this same place.

She just had to tell them that their family was now complete.

* * * * *  

For all his fears and for all of the craziness of those early years, raising Jesus had turned out to be way easier than Joseph had expected.

I mean, the beginning had definitely been rough.

The baby phase. The crying. The sleeplessness. They had experienced the startling visit of the three kings, and then had fled in fear to Egypt while hearing of massacres back home. They had lived as foreigners there, trying their best to navigate a strange country.

But in time, they had heard the news that they were safe. They had gone home, not just to their temporary home in Bethlehem, but all the way home to Nazareth. They had built a house, settled down, had other children.

For several years now, life had been almost…normal.

And all this time Jesus grew. He was healthy and strong. He was obedient to his parents and kind to his younger brothers. He was a good boy.

And so smart. The things he said! Joseph never had more interesting conversations with anyone than he did with his son.

Everyone in town spoke well of the boy. It was hard to criticize a child who was so good to everyone.

They had always told him who he really was. He seemed to accept it as a matter of course, but he never tried to act like a king. He never demanded things of his mother. He never disrespected his father. He never looked down on his brothers.

It seemed like those rough early days were behind them.

Joseph could tell when he looked in Mary’s eyes that she never stopped worrying. His fears never completely went away either. But they did rest.

The more he knew his adopted son, the more years that passed with the boy behaving just as he should, the more Joseph relaxed. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as daunting as he had thought.

He worked hard to train the boy right. They read the law. They followed the law. Every year they went to Jerusalem for the Passover.

The year the boy was twelve, they traveled to Jerusalem just like they always had. It was a good time, just like it always was. Many of their relatives and other people from their town were with them. It was a joyful group.

At the end of their time there, they all traveled home together, talking over everything they had seen and done in the city. Joseph didn’t see Jesus walking near him, but that wasn’t unusual. He was probably with his cousins or his friends from the village. He was well-liked among the other boys.

It wasn’t until they camped that night that Mary came to him with a worried look on her face. She couldn’t find Jesus anywhere. Joseph tried to calm her down. He went with her to ask the others where Jesus had gone.

But no one had seen him. No one had walked with him. Their blank faces told the truth pretty clearly.

The boy had been left behind in Jerusalem.

Mary came unglued a little, not that Joseph could blame her. The boy was strong and smart, but Jerusalem was a big city, full of strangers, and he was only twelve.

This kid was their most important responsibility. How had they just lost him?

Mary insisted that they head back right away, no resting. They needed to get back to the city even if it meant traveling all night.

Joseph agreed, though he planned to talk her into a few hours of sleep later. She couldn’t go forever without rest.

They left the other children with their relatives.

The traveled as long as they could, slept a little, and then walked on until they arrived back in the city.

The first place they looked was the lodging where they had stayed. No one had seen Jesus since the group left.

Then they visited every place they had been that week.

Then they visited every person they knew in the city.

No one had seen him.

He was nowhere.

Three days of searching. Two nights of unsuccessfully trying to rest. Still, they hadn’t found him.

By now, Mary was a complete wreck. Exhausted. Terrified. Full of shame at her failure as a mother.

Nothing he said helped at all.

There was nothing to do but keep looking.

That third day they went to the temple. Maybe Jesus had gone there. If not, at least they could take a few minutes to pray that he was safe.

When they walked into the temple courts, they saw him immediately. Not dirty and disheveled and hungry as they had feared to find him. Just sitting calmly, obviously well-fed and safe, talking seriously with the teachers of the law who were gathered there.

Joseph could see the looks of amazement on the faces of everyone who was listening to the boy. He knew what they were feeling. He had felt that sense of wonder when he had discussed the law with Jesus. As they approached someone asked a question, and Jesus’s answer was astonishing.

Mary didn’t seem to see any of this. The second she saw her son, she choked back a sob and stumbled toward him.

He didn’t notice her until she broke through the circle of men and threw herself on him.

“How could you do this to us!? Why have you treated us this way? We’ve been searching for you!”

Jesus looked surprised. He didn’t apologize. He didn’t look ashamed. He did hug his mother, but the tone of his voice when he answered her was almost reprimanding.

“Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Just as if everything was perfectly clear to him, and he couldn’t see why it wasn’t clear to them, too.

But it wasn’t clear. In Joseph’s mind a good son stayed with his parents. If he had to go somewhere, he thoughtfully told his mother where he was going. He didn’t put her through the anguish that Mary had suffered these days.

In that moment all Joseph’s dreams that this would be easier than expected disappeared.

The boy was good. He was respectful and obedient. But he had his own agenda.

Maybe his parents could count on his kindness, but they couldn’t count on him to be predictable. They could teach and train him, but they couldn’t control him.

They went home that night, and Jesus went with them. He was obedient as always. But there was no taking back those three days.

There was no forgetting what they all knew so clearly now.

He was their son, but he had another Father, too. And like his true Father, his ways were not their ways.

He was beyond them.

———

You can listen to the podcast here.

Hope you get to soak up a bit more holiday cheer this week before heading back into normal on Monday. We’re going to see Star Wars for the fourth time tonight (come on, you’re not surprised) and then partying it up on Thursday with a bunch of friends (and by partying, I probably mean playing a board game until the ball drops and then clinking glasses and going to bed). 

I’ll meet you here with the book list later this week!

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Advent Day 5

John and Michael loved their toys.

John’s favorites were the cars. He had tiny little toy convertibles and wind-up race cars and even a monster truck that could drive over the top of the other cars. The pride of his collection, though, was a remote control Indy car. It was bright yellow with a red stripe down the side and could take corners at high speed. John had saved up all his money to buy that car, and he took good care of it. His dad, who loved how happy John was when he was playing with these toys, encouraged him to keep collecting cars, and he showed him pictures of engines and explained how they worked and which models of cars had the best engines. Many of John’s favorite moments were taking apart his model cars with his dad and learning how to put them together again.

Michael’s favorites were the airplanes. Anything that could fly fascinated him. He collected prop planes and jets, helicopters and even a blimp. His favorite was a remote controlled model of the original Wright Brothers airplane. His father gave it to him for Christmas, and he kept it safe on a high shelf, only taking it down to fly it when the weather was perfect. On those days, though, he would stay outside from morning to night, flying his airplane and learning to make it do tricks. Often his dad would join him on those days, loving every minute of Michael’s happiness with the toy he had given him.  The hours spent with his dad flying his plane were the best of Michael’s childhood.

John and Michael grew up. Their toys became more sophisticated with time, and they learned new ways to enjoy them. In their teen years, they learned to build the more difficult models. They spent hours building miniature engines that really worked. They collected rare editions. Their dad continued to encourage them in their pursuits, knowing that these toys were excellent preparations for the future.

Finally the boys turned 18, and their father had prepared a special surprise for them. For John it was a car of his own, a classic that would need some work to be in pristine condition but was drivable and had a wonderful history. For Michael, it was the lease of a small prop plane and a series of flying lessons. Their dad was so excited when the day finally came that he could take them outside and show them their gifts. He had been waiting so long for them to be old enough to really drive and really fly, and he couldn’t wait to see the looks on their faces the first time they did.

The morning of their birthday arrived. John and Michael were both up early, working on their latest models and speculating about what new models their dad would have bought them to celebrate. When he came in and asked them to step outside, though, the boys were confused. They asked their dad to just bring the presents into their playroom. They didn’t want to leave the projects they were working on, and this room was the most comfortable for opening presents anyway. Their dad just grinned and said they really had to come outside to see their presents. It took some convincing, but finally they agreed to come and take a look.

Their dad held his breath as John and Michael came out of the house and saw the car and the plane parked on the front lawn. He waited for their shouts of excitement and glee. Instead, the boys’ faces fell. They mumbled a thank you but neither boy moved toward his amazing new gift. After an awkward moment, the dad asked what was wrong. The boys were a little ashamed to admit the truth, but since their father had always been so understanding, they finally told him. 

“This car is old and rusty,” John said. “My models are so much more collectible.”

“But you can actually get in this one and drive!” His dad said.

John just shrugged and looked longingly back toward the house where his shiny collection waited.

“That plane looks dangerous,” Michael said in his turn.

“But I have the best teacher to show you how to fly it,” his father said, “and you’ll get to actually soar through the air!”

Michael shivered and thought about how safe he was with his remote-controls.

Out of respect for their father, both boys agreed to sit in their new vehicles, but neither would turn the ignition. As soon as their dad released them, they hurried back inside to their cozy playroom to keep working on their models.

At first, their dad thought they would get used to the idea of having a real car and a real plane, but they didn’t. Weeks went by, and the boys continued to ignore the chance to drive and fly. Instead they spent their days inside with their toys. Their dad was so disappointed. He tried telling them stories about the joy of driving and flying. He tried showing them how he could do both. He tried showing them pictures and videos. The boys enjoyed watching them, but still had no interest in actually getting into a car or a plane. 

Finally, in frustration, their dad came into the playroom one morning and began packing up all their toys  and models.

“What are you doing?” the boys cried.

“I’m taking your toys away. You aren’t children any more. It’s time to move on to real things.”

“How could you be so cruel?” John asked.

“We thought you loved us!” Michael yelled.

And of course, their dad said, “I do.”

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:11-12‬ ‭NIV‬‬

  

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Advent Day 4

Once upon a time there were two babies. Their mothers lived on the same dirty street in the same stinking town in the same evil country in the same cold and unconcerned world. The babies were born squalling and filthy, and their mothers, exhausted by the painful birth and half-starved by their miserable lives, could do nothing to clean them up or give them comfort. Each mother nursed her baby with what little weak milk she had and then sank into depressed thought, wondering what to do with this child she could never support. 

The first mother thought of a man she had heard of, a rich man who was known for being kind to the poor. She knew that unlike other rich people, he lived in the same stinking city and that his house was not far away. As her hungry baby began to cry again, she made up her mind. She dragged herself off of her bed, wrapped the baby in the only rag she had, and stumbled through the dirty streets until she found herself on the doorstep of the rich man. With only the faintest sort of hope, she rang the doorbell, and the moment the servant opened the door, she fainted into his arms. The servant, who had been with his master a long time and knew what his master would want, carried the woman and her child into the house. 

The second mother knew nothing of this rich man, other than the vaguest rumors which she dismissed as lies as all rumors were. She knew of no way to care for her child and no one who would help in any way. She was completely alone in the world and, though she wanted her child to live and be happy, she knew that was an impossible wish. Happiness was out of the question. She would have to settle for life. So she dragged herself off of her bed and wrapped her baby in the only rag she had and stumbled out onto the street to beg for scraps from passers by. She received more kicks than coins that day, but for the sake of her child she didn’t stop until she had enough to feed them both, half-rotten though the food would have to be.

__________

Once upon a time there were two children. Both were five years old and tall for their age. Both lived in a stinking town in an evil country in a cold and unconcerned world. But their lives could not have been more different.

The first child lived with his mother in the house of a very rich man. His mother served this man, working in his kitchens, well-fed and well-dressed and happy. The child, too, was well-provided for and that was not where it stopped. The rich man had actually adopted the boy as his own, given him his name and a good education and access to his fortune. The child knew that not only were all his needs met, but that they always would be. Because of the books and music and intelligent conversation that were always around him, his mind had already begun to expand. He was beginning to read words and write his name and to draw pictures of the world around him. He didn’t see his adopted father very much, for he spent most of his time with his mother, but when he did see the man, they laughed and had long talks, and sometimes there were presents, and the child thought his father was the best thing in the whole universe.

The second child lived with his mother in a shack built up under an old bridge. He shivered at night, but in the day he kept warm through constant motion. He ran errands for his mother and he climbed all over the bridge and he fidgeted while his mother made him sit next to her as she begged on the street corner. Most days it felt like he could never move enough.  His mother smacked him to keep him still, and the men who passed by would kick him when he got in their way, but he couldn’t help himself. Something in him needed to be in motion.  When it was time to go to bed at night, he would toss and turn, trying to pretend he wasn’t hungry, trying to pretend he wasn’t cold. It didn’t work. Only when his body was exhausted did he finally fall asleep to dream restless dreams.

____________

Once upon a time there were two teens. They both had grown gangly and awkward. They both lived in the same evil country in the same cold and unconcerned world. They both lost their mothers in the same year to the same disease that swept through their city. But that was where the similarities ended.

The first teen lived safe and secure in the home of the rich man who had adopted him as his son. He mourned his mother and felt an ache in his heart that he would never see her again, but the whole household came around him to give him comfort. They shared stories of his mother’s life and helped him remember her beautiful smile. They reminded him to eat and to sleep and made sure that he had clean clothes just as his mother would have done for him. His adopted father himself came and sat for long hours with the teen, telling him stories of his own losses, helping him feel that he was not alone, that there was hope for his future. His father encouraged him to continue in his studies, and the teen did.  Concentrating on his work helped him deal with his pain, and he learned and grew and the pain did not disappear but it stopped being his whole world and became mixed with the joy of his happy memories.

The second teen lived on the dirty streets, and when his mother died he was completely alone. Long ago, concerned citizens had evicted them from the shack under the bridge in the name of cleaning up the city, and the boy had never realized how hard his mother worked to find them a place to sleep every night. Without her, his whole world became a struggle to find some small amount of food to eat and some small amount of safety to rest at night. Most night’s he didn’t succeed in this. He was frequently beaten by other, stronger men who wanted to sleep in the spot he had chosen. He was occasionally arrested by other, more respectable men who wanted no one to sleep in the public areas of the town. He grew to fear everyone he saw and to resent the need to be afraid. His endless drive to be in motion became his salvation. He learned that he could run, and he could run faster and farther than those who wanted to hurt him. But he couldn’t help thinking that life shouldn’t have to be this way. Every time he ran, his anger built.

____________

Once upon a time there were two young men. They both had reached the age where they were expected to be men and they both secretly felt like boys in their hearts. They both lived in the same cold and unconcerned world, but that had a radically different effect on them.

The first young man saw the gray apathy of his world and determined to light a fire and burn the cold away. He had all the money and power of his adopted father, and he waited only to finish his college education before going out into the cold world to make it a different place.

The second young man saw the unfeeling hardness of his world and hated everyone who was a part of it. He despised the rich for being selfish and the poor for being ignorant. He despised those in authority for being bullies and those who broke the law for being thugs. He despised himself for being weak and worthless street trash. He saw nothing that gave him hope that anything would ever change. He stole what he needed to eat and spent the rest of his time considering ways to end his miserable existence.

____________

Once upon a time there was a thief.  He lived on the streets and he knew an easy mark when he saw one. And one day, he saw the perfect man, and old man walking the streets with his son. They were both dressed in expensive clothes and walked with a quiet confidence that told him they had never known pain. He hated them. When the two men passed him, the older man turned and looked right in his eyes, but the younger man never glanced his way. He was too busy looking ahead. The second young man slipped his hand into the pocket of the first young man and lifted out his wallet, as much for spite as for hunger. The older man saw. He stopped, and his son stopped with him. The son was ready to call for the police, to have the thief dragged away, but the father said no. 

Instead, he took the thief home. He gave him food to eat. He gave him clean clothes to wear. He introduced him to the household and told him to make himself at home. The thief was so bewildered by this behavior that his did what the old man said. He ate the food and put on the clothes. He thanked the women who brought it to him and offered to help the men who took away his old things. He didn’t even mean to. He meant to keep hating the rich man and all who lived in his house, but he found it impossible. No one had ever cared about him other than his mother, and even she had only done it out of duty. He found that the responded to kindness in spite of himself. 

After only a week, the rich man came to the thief and made him an offer. He would adopt the thief as his son and pay for his education. He would give him an inheritance and a life of security. The thief only had to say yes. Still unable to believe that any of this was happening, the thief agreed.  The adoption was carried out at once, and the thief was introduced to his new brother who would show him around the university where he was to get the education that had formerly seemed impossible.

____________

Once upon a time there were two brothers. Both shared the same penniless birth and the same shameful heritage. Both had been taken in by the same wealthy man, and both now had everything they could ever need.  There was only one difference between them. One had been adopted as a baby and one as a young man. 

The first brother found it hard to get used to his new brother. The second brother was rough and uneducated. He hadn’t read any of the books that the first brother loved and it was often hard to know what to talk about. Plus, the new brother was moody. The smaller things would throw him into a rage or sink him into a depression. The first brother tried not to feel resentful toward his father for burdening him with this brother he had to take care of.

The second brother found it hard to like his new brother, too. The first brother was pampered and naive. He had read way way too many books and didn’t know what the real world was like. He seemed to have no idea how perfect his life had been, and his condescending tone was enough to drive the second brother crazy. The second brother tried not to feel resentful toward the father for raising such a smug jerk and giving him no choice but to spend time with him.

Fortunately, both brothers loved their adopted father, and fortunately, their adopted father was a very wise man. He found quiet moments to talk to each brother and point out that despite appearances they had come from the same place. He told them how much they had to learn from each other. At first, the brothers didn’t really believe him, but they respected him enough to think about what he had said. So time passed, and as they grew more used to each other,they began to see what their father had meant.

The first brother watched the second, listened to his story, and realized for the first time just what his life would have been if his father hadn’t taken him in. He saw the overwhelming gratitude that his brother felt and learned to be more grateful himself, to take less for granted. He saw the depths of his brothers pain and began to ask questions. He saw for the first time how little he knew about the world and he determined to change that.

The second brother watched the first brother calm confidence and began for the first time to believe that all this was real. He saw that their father truly was a man who could be trusted, that he had been good to the first brother all of his life, and for the first time the second brother let go of some of his fear and mistrust. He began to read the first brother’s favorite books and to feel his mind expanding under their influence. He saw for the first time how little he knew about the world and he determined to change that.

The two brothers became inseparable. They learned from each other and joked with each other and  grew to depend upon one another. They irritated one another and gave each other practice in forgiveness. They watched each other’s backs. Together they walked the dirty streets of their stinking town and remembered where they come from, before they had a home, before they had a fortune, before they had a father. Together they returned home with new orphans in tow. And together they knocked on their father’s door.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:14-17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

  

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Advent Day 3

I give you due warning: this is different from the usual content of this blog, but if you want to truly know what stories I’m telling my kids these days, here they are. In addition to our fun Advent calendars and silly stories, I try to do a little reading with my kids each night that focuses on what Christmas is really about. I used to read from a children’s Bible, but they are just getting too old for that. Instead, this year, I’m trying to write something short for us, something that takes some of the important verses of the Bible but also is straight from me to them. I won’t have one for every day because that’s more than I can take on, but three or four times a week we’ll sit down and I’ll read, hoping a little truth gets through the impatience that this time of year generates. This is for my kids, but if you want to come along with us, you’re always welcome.

He was a decent guy. He worked hard. He had a place in the community, provided an essential service. He went to the synagogue, listened to the law, tried to live it out, even though most of his day was just about the tools in his workshop, the job at hand, the hot meal waiting when he finished his work. But he was honest with his customers and he honored his father and mother and he rested when he was supposed to rest.

His life seemed to be on track. He had work. He had his family. He was promised to be married soon. They would have their own house eventually. He would build it himself. They would have children and raise them in the same town where they had grown up. He would teach his sons to build and to build well.

Then the girl got pregnant. She completely betrayed him. It hurt his heart to think that she would reject him but it hurt his pride even worse. There was no hiding this. Eventually everyone was going to know what she’d done to him.

Still, he was a decent guy. He was hurt and he was angry, but he didn’t want to make things worse for her than they already were. Her life was going to be bad enough. Obviously, he couldn’t marry her now, but at least he could end their engagement quietly. If he didn’t make it public, it would be a while before the rest of the town found out why he had done it. She would have time to make other plans, a chance to leave town before the gossip started. She probably had relatives somewhere who would take her in. He was pretty sure there was an uncle or a cousin in Jerusalem, a priest, he had heard.

He would be righteous and follow the law and have nothing to do with her sin. But he would also be merciful to her. He wouldn’t say cruel things or demand repayment. It was the decent thing to do. He knew God would be pleased.

Then the angel came.

He was just lying on his bed, trying to sleep, when the most unbelievable request anyone had ever received came his way.

Don’t be afraid. Marry her anyway. Believe that she didn’t sin. Believe that her child is from God. It’s a boy. Name him Jesus. He’s the Messiah.

So much for his life being on track.

His days of being a decent, hard-working, ordinary carpenter like his father were over. This was going to take so much more than decency.

This was going to take faith the likes of which few people had ever known. To believe that the Messiah they had all been waiting for while hundreds of years passed was going to come now, to come here. To believe that his backwater, teenage fiance was the chosen mother of the Son of God.

This was going to take humility so enormous that it could swallow all of his pride. If he married her, everyone was going to think her sin was his sin. His parents would be crushingly disappointed in him. His standing in the community would plummet.

This was going to take courage so ridiculous it felt a lot like foolishness. To willingly accept the end of his life as he’d known it.  To face certain rejection and unavoidable danger. To take on the responsibility of protecting and raising the most important person in human history.

He lay in his bed and let it all wash over him.  Five minutes ago he had been so proud of being a decent man, and now he was expected to be…this.

But it turned out that being a decent, hard-working man like his father before him was exactly the preparation he had needed to become the humbly courageous man of faith this moment required.

The moment he considered that it might be true, that this girl might be innocent and faithful and scared and alone, his sense of justice left him no option but to stand by her.  No decent man would refuse to shelter and care for someone who was taking on such an enormous  and important burden.

And once begun, he would work at this task as hard as he had worked at everything else. If he could pour his sweat into building a sturdy wall, he could exert at least as much energy in defending a defenseless girl. If he could sacrifice sleep to work on his neighbor’s roof, he could sacrifice a little reputation for the woman who would be his wife. If he could dig a foundation while the finished home was only an idea, he could follow this unknown path step by step, taking on only what was right in front of him.

So he lay there in the dark, the angel gone, the words still echoing in his head, and he didn’t figure it all out. He went back and forth between acceptance and anger, between philosophy and fear, until finally he fell asleep.

And then in the morning, he did what he always did. He got up and did his duty.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matthew 1:24)


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Advent Day 2

I give you due warning: this is different from the usual content of this blog, but if you want to truly know what stories I’m telling my kids these days, here they are. In addition to our fun Advent calendars and silly stories, I try to do a little reading with my kids each night that focuses on what Christmas is really about. I used to read from a children’s Bible, but they are just getting too old for that. Instead, this year, I’m trying to write something short for us, something that takes some of the important verses of the Bible but also is straight from me to them. I won’t have one for every day because that’s more than I can take on, but three or four times a week we’ll sit down and I’ll read, hoping a little truth gets through the impatience that this time of year generates. This is for my kids, but if you want to come along with us, you’re always welcome.
She was young. Old enough now to be considered a woman, to be promised in marriage to the local carpenter, but still young enough that all the changes in her body were new and uncomfortable. She knew she was a woman now, that she would soon be starting her own family, but most days she still felt like a child.

She lived in a small town. Everyone knew everyone else, and when the women met at the well in the mornings they talked freely about what their neighbors were up to.  She kind of liked listening to this gossip, trying to understand the hints the older women dropped and tucking away bits of information to talk over with her sister at home later.

She believed in God with all her heart. She listened to the law read out every week in the synagogue, and at home her family tried to follow that law. It was often a lot of work to keep all the regulations, but her father insisted. From the time she was a child, he told her about the sacrifices the priests made at the temple in Jerusalem, sacrifices they had to make because God knew this people couldn’t follow the law perfectly. She tried to do her best, thinking of those animals that died because she failed, but sometimes it was hard not to covet her neighbor’s new dress or think disrespectful thoughts about her mother.

When the angel came, it was completely overwhelming.

The very idea that she could be the mother of the Messiah, the one her father always talked about, the one who would save them all from the evil Romans who ruled them. It was thrilling.

She felt honored. She felt important.

The very idea that she would be pregnant. That her body would be changing yet again, that a child would be growing inside her, that it would be God’s child, that it would just appear there. It was impossible to grasp.

She felt bewildered. She felt like she was in over her head.

The very idea that she would be pregnant! That she wasn’t married! That everyone would see that she was having a child without a husband. That her parents would believe the worst of her. That her future husband would despise her. That the whole town would gossip. It was humiliating.

She felt sick. She felt terrified.

All these emotions swirled around, a messy tangle, impossible to sort out.

But this was God. The Creator of the universe had decided to do this to her.

What could she possibly say?

“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

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Christmas Lunchbox Story!

Instead of printing off cheesy Christmas jokes for my kids’ lunchboxes this year, I decided to try writing a cheesy Christmas story instead! It’s twelve parts for each of them, and though the stories are each from the perspective of a different kid, they tell about the same events. I completely acknowledge the Hallmark quality of this, but it is Christmas after all, so maybe it can be excused. Bear in mind that Lucy is six, so I had to work hard to make her story something she could read herself. Hopefully. I just sent the first one today. We’ll see how a little Christmas cheese goes over!

  
Lucy 

1. Once there was a girl named Holly. She was six years old. She lived with her dad because her mom had died. Her dad was fun. He played and told stories and loved Holly. But every year at Christmas, he got so sad. He missed Holly’s mom.

2. Holly’s mom put up a Christmas tree each year, but after she died, Holly and her dad did not have Christmas trees. This year Holly decided to get one to make her dad happy.

3. One day Holly left home to go find a Christmas tree in the woods. She walked and walked. It was cold, but she had warm gloves. She looked for a tree that was small to take home.

4. As Holly walked in the woods, she heard a bark. She looked under a bush. There was a little dog! It was stuck in the bush. Holly got it out. The dog licked her face.

5. Holly put the dog in her coat and zipped it up. It would be warm there. She walked on. She still needed a Christmas tree, but now she had a dog to help her look.

6. Holly and the dog looked for a tree. All the trees were big. No tree was small like Holly’s living room. Holly felt sad. She turned to go home.

7. Holly heard a noise. It was a THUNK, THUNK noise. She went toward the noise. Holly peeked around a tree and saw a boy and a girl. The boy was chopping wood.

8. Holly stepped forward. The boy stopped chopping. “Are you lost?” he said. The dog jumped inside her coat. Holly zipped it down. The dog jumped out. “Merry!” said the boy.

9. The boy’s name was Jack. The girl’s name was Joy. The dog was the boy’s dog. He was happy to find her. The axe was the girl’s axe. They said they could chop a Christmas tree for Holly, but their hands were cold. Holly gave them her gloves.

10. Jack cut a tree for Holly’s house. Joy carried it home. Holly’s dad was so happy to see her and the tree. He asked Jack and Joy to come to dinner on Christmas with their families.

11. Jack and Joy came to dinner. Jack brought his dog, Merry. Joy brought her brothers and sisters. They were a big group. It was fun to eat together.

12. Holly was so happy to have new friends. Her Christmas tree looked so pretty. They sat by the fire and she gave Jack and Joy presents. It was a pair of gloves for each of them. They smiled and said they would wear them next year to find her another Christmas tree. It was a happy Christmas.

Scott

1. Once upon a time, there was a boy named Jack. He lived with his parents in a little cabin at the edge of the woods. Jack didn’t have any brothers and sisters, but he did have a little yellow dog named Merry. Merry was Jack’s best friend. He got her for Christmas when he was five, and now that he was nine, he couldn’t even remember life without her.

2. One cold December day, Jack woke up and didn’t see Merry in her usual place next to his bed. His mom said she had let Merry outside early in the morning and had heard her barking at rabbits. Jack went out and called for Merry, but she didn’t answer. He looked all around the house, but she was nowhere in sight. Jack started to be very worried. He kept calling for Merry until he mom said it was time for school. All day in school, Jack thought about Merry. When he got home, she still wasn’t there. He wanted to go look for her right away, but his dad said it was too dark. Jack determined that h would head into the woods the next morning to find Merry, no matter what.

3. Early the next morning, which fortunately was Saturday, Jack packed up a huge ham for Merry and a thermos of hot chocolate for himself and slipped out of the house. He had left a note for his parents, but he didn’t wait to tell them what he was doing in case they wouldn’t let him. He headed off into the woods, calling Merry’s name as he went.

4. Jack walked for a long time. He was getting really cold and was just thinking about stopping to drink that thermos of hot chocolate when he heard a noise. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. “Merry?” Jack called. He hurried toward the sound. Suddenly it stopped. He walked forward more carefully. “Merry?” he asked more softly. Now he could hear a new sound, a choking sort of sound. He ran forward, but instead of seeing his dog, he saw a girl in the clearing before him.

5. The girl was tall, probably a year or two older than Jack, and she had a tight yellow braid down her back. Jack saw an axe next to her in the snow, but she wasn’t using it at the moment. Instead, her head was bowed. The choking noises were coming from her. She was crying. “Are you okay?” Jack asked. The girl lifted her head in surprise and took her hands away from her face. Jack saw that both hands were red and freezing.

6. “I’m Jack,” Jack said, taking his own hand out of his pocket and holding it out to the girl. “My name is Joy,” she said as she shook it. Her hands felt like ice. “Can I help you with something?” he asked. “No, I’m fine,” said the girl, even though it was clearly not true. “Were you trying to cut something down?” Jack asked, pointing at the axe. The girl sniffed. “I was trying to cut some firewood to sell in town. If I could make a little money, I could buy my family’s Christmas dinner. But my hands are too cold. I can’t use the axe right, so it will never work.”

7. Jack thought uncomfortably of the ham in his bag. He really needed it to find Merry. She would come from any distance once she smelled the ham. But if this girl’s family didn’t have any Christmas dinner… Jack thought of a solution. “I can help you cut the firewood!” he said. “Put your hands in your pockets to warm them up while I chop. Then when my hands get cold, I’ll put them in my pockets while you take a turn.” “You would do that for me?” Joy said. Instead of answering, Jack picked up the axe and went to work.

8. Jack chopped for a long time, but he only made a small stack of wood before his hands were too cold to hold the axe anymore. He started to think this was a terrible idea. It was taking so long, he would never have time to find Merry. Maybe he should just give Joy the ham and then look for his dog without it. He was about to say as much when he heard the crack of a branch breaking and looked up to see a little girl come out from behind a tree.

9. The little girl stared at Jack and his axe with wide eyes. She looked scared. “Are you lost?” Jack asked her. “I can’t find my Christmas tree,” the little girl said. That made no sense to Jack. Maybe she meant she couldn’t find her house? That must be where her Christmas tree was. He was about to ask her when he heard a squeal from under the little girl’s thick coat. She unzipped it a bit, and a tiny brown head poked out. It was Merry! Merry wriggled in joy and jumped out into the snow to race toward Jack.

10. Once Jack had hugged Merry and let her lick his face at least twelve times, he began to question the little girl. Her name was Holly. She had come into the woods to look for a Christmas tree to cheer up her father, and she had found Merry tangled in some bushes. She set Merry free and brought her along to search for the tree, but even with the dog’s help, she hadn’t been able to find a tree small enough for her to carry home. “How were you planning to cut down the tree?” Jack asked. The little girl’s face fell. “I don’t know,” she whispered. He felt sorry for her, but what had she been thinking? A six-year-old girl should not be trying to find a Christmas tree in the woods alone. “It’s a good thing you found us, then,” said Joy, stepping forward with a smile, “because we have an axe.”

11. Everything went from freezing and worried and hungry to happiness in the space of ten minutes. Before anything else, Jack took out the thermos of hot chocolate, and all three of them shared it. Little Holly had a warm pair of gloves, and when Jack put them on, it took no time at all to cut the top off of a tree in just the right size for Holly’s house. Now that he had Merry back, he offered the ham to Joy for her family, and she was happy to accept. It was good that Joy was there because not only did she have the axe, but she was the only one big enough to drag the tree back to Holly’s house. The three of them tramped through the snow with Merry tagging along at their heels. Jack couldn’t believe how much happier he was than he had been when he left home that morning.

12. Back at Holly’s house, they found her father frantic with worry over his missing daughter. When he saw them, and they explained about the tree, though, his eyes filled with tears. He was so happy that they had brought his daughter back safely that he invited them and their families to Christmas dinner. It was the best Christmas celebration Jack had ever had. Not only did he have Merry back and have a big meal with his two new friends, but Joy had five brothers and sisters, including a brother just his age! It was the huge family Christmas Jack had always wanted. Later that night, they sat by a fire and Holly brought out two Christmas presents. Jack and Joy opened them up and found the warmest gloves ever. They laughed and agreed that they would wear them next year when they helped Holly find her Christmas tree in the woods.
Ellie 

1. Once, long ago, there was a girl named Joy. Her father was a doctor and her mother was a baker, and she had three little brothers and two little sisters, and since she was the oldest of them all, she often had to watch over them while her mother baked bread to sell to the neighbors. Joy sometimes wished she could be alone, but she didn’t mind the work too much because at the end of every day, there was always fresh baked bread and her father coming home with a twinkle in his eyes and a hug for his oldest daughter.

2. One cold November day, Joy’s father came home after a long day, and the usual twinkle was not in his eye. He still had a hug for his daughter, but she could feel his arms trembling as they squeezed her. He could not eat his dinner, and when he went to bed he was flushed with fever. Joy’s father was very sick. For weeks he lay in his bed and couldn’t work. Joy’s mother assured them all that he would get better, but Joy saw how worried she was. Finally one night, Joy asked her mother for the truth. “He really will get better,” her mother said, “but right now we have no money because he isn’t working. I can barely buy enough flour to make bread every day, and we certainly won’t have enough for Christmas dinner.”

3. Joy hugged her mom and told her they didn’t need anything special for Christmas dinner, but that night she lay in bed and thought about what she could do. She knew it would be a long and sad Christmas without their usual feast. She thought about the problem for hours and finally remembered that old man Jenkins in the town would pay kids money if they brought him firewood, since he was too old to get it for himself. She knew her father had an old axe somewhere. She could go into the woods and chop some wood. The money probably wouldn’t be enough to buy a Christmas ham, but at least it could get them a little sugar for cookies.

4. Early the next morning, Joy put on her coat and took the axe from its place in the shed. It was cold as she trudged out into the woods, but Joy kept her hands in her pockets. Normally her mother knitted them all gloves each fall, but this year she had been too busy nursing their father. Joy’s old gloves were much too small, but she refused to feel sorry for herself. At least she still had this warm coat that used to be her mothers. The pockets would do just fine. A little ways into the woods, Joy found a big fallen log, perfect for chopping into firewood. Joy had never used the axe before, but she was determined, so she set to work.

5. Chopping wood was hard work. Really hard work. Joy’s shoulders ached and her back hurt and her arms felt like jelly after only five minutes. She could have ignored all of that, though. The thing she hadn’t counted on was the cold. Of course, she couldn’t keep her hands in her pockets while chopping wood, and the metal handle of the axe was like ice under her fingers. Before long she couldn’t even feel her fingers. She was forced to stop and drop the axe into the snow. Joy felt defeated. She would never be able to do this. She refused to cry, but for just a minute, she dropped her head into her hands and let her frustration take over.

6. “Are you okay?” a voice asked. Joy looked up to see a boy just a little bit younger than her standing under the trees watching her. She sniffed back the tears that had started to come in spite of her. “I’m fine,” she said. She could tell he didn’t believe her. The boy introduced himself as Jack. He was so friendly that she found herself shaking his hand and telling him all about what she was doing there. A funny look came over his face but instead of laughing at her, he dropped his backpack and offered to help chop the wood. He said they could take turns chopping and warming their hands in their pockets. Joy couldn’t believe he was nice enough to help her, especially when he told her while he worked that he had come out here to look for his little dog who was lost. She hoped the dog wasn’t hurt and waiting for him while he took the time to help her. She decided that when they were done, she’d help him in his search before she went into town.

7. It felt so good to have her hands in her warm pockets again, but Joy could see that after only a few minutes Jack’s hands were also red and frozen. She was just about to suggest that he stop and warm them (she thought maybe she could take a turn again now) when she heard a noise under the trees. Joy turned just in time to see a little girl step out from behind a tree. She was small and looked lost. Jack, who was apparently always friendly, asked her right away if she needed help. She said she couldn’t find her Christmas tree, which Joy thought was strange, but before she could say anything else, the girl unzipped her coat and a small dog leapt out into the snow. From the look on Jack’s face and the excited yipping of the dog, Joy could tell it was his lost puppy. 

8. After Jack had greeted his dog, he opened up his backpack and took out a big package wrapped in brown paper. He looked embarrassed as he held it out to Joy. “It’s a ham,” he said. “I brought it to help me find Merry, but now I have her. I want it to be for you. For your family.” Joy couldn’t believe he was just giving her the whole big ham. “Now we don’t have to chop wood,” Jack said. “Now we can just cut down a Christmas tree for Holly.” Joy smiled. They went to work right away finding the perfect one. 

9. Jack did most of the work cutting down the Christmas tree. It was easy once Holly gave him the warm pair of gloves she had been wearing. They must have been her father’s because they fit Jack perfectly. Joy was the only one big enough to carry the tree back to Holly’s house. She was so happy to be able to help these new little friends who had helped her, too. She thought of how happy her family would be to see that ham, and she was glad she had decided to come into the woods that day. 

10. When they got to Holly’s house, her father was so happy to see them. He had been terribly worried when he couldn’t find his daughter, and he was grateful to Jack and Joy for finding her and bringing her home that he invited them and all their families back for Christmas dinner. He explained that he and Holly would be all alone otherwise, because he wife had died when Holly was little. That was why Holly had wanted a tree, because her mother had always put one up when she was alive. Joy was happy to say her family would come to dinner. “Now you can have ham for Christmas breakfast instead!” Jack said. Joy just smiled in return. 

11. Christmas dinner at Holly’s house was wonderful. Her father had bought a huge feast, a turkey with all the trimmings. Jack was there with his parent and his dog, Merry. He made friends with Joy’s little brothers right away. They all talked and laughed all afternoon, and even Joy’s father, who was propped up on the couch, wrapped in blankets, looked better than he had in a long time. Joy couldn’t remember ever being so happy. 

12. Later that night when they were all sitting by the fire telling stories, Holly came up to Jack and Joy and handed them each a present. They opened them up and found nice warm gloves! Joy had to laugh, thinking of that miserable afternoon trying to chop wood without them. She and Jack promised they would wear their new gloves next year when they all went to the woods to find Holly a Christmas tree. Joy would bring the axe, and Jack would bring Merry to keep them company. It made Joy happy to think of how these last dark weeks had brought them all together, and how it had given them a new Christmas tradition. 

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Advent Day 1

I give you due warning: this is different from the usual content of this blog, but if you want to truly know what stories I’m telling my kids these days, here they are.  In addition to our fun Advent calendars and silly stories, I try to do a little reading with my kids each night that focuses on what Christmas is really about. I used to read from a children’s Bible, but they are just getting too old for that. Instead, this year, I’m trying to write something short for us, something that takes some of the important verses of the Bible but also is straight from me to them. I won’t have one for every day because that’s more than I can take on, but three or four times a week we’ll sit down and I’ll read, hoping a little truth gets through the impatience that this time of year generates. This is for my kids, but if you want to come along with us, you’re always welcome.

  

Hold a small Christmas ball ornament in your hand. Close your eyes for just a minute.

Feel where you are sitting.  Picture it in your head.  Now imagine that you are slowly shrinking.  You shrink down, smaller and smaller.  You are now so small that the room around you seems like a giant’s room and that round ornmant is a huge globe that could crush you. Shrink down even smaller, smaller and smaller until you can see that the shiny globe is actually made up of little atoms all bonded together. You are microscopic now and that Christmas ornament is as big as the world to you.  You see the atoms that form it, and you can easily tell that what seemed like a solid surface is actually full of wide open spaces.  Each atom has its protons and neutrons clustered in the middle with several electrons circling around them like planets around a sun, and in between…nothing.  Wide open spaces.  What is keeping it all together? What is holding that wide open space tightly enough together that when you zoom out it seems solid? What keeps it from simply flying apart? From becoming nothing? 

‭‭Colossians‬ ‭1:15-17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Are your eyes still closed? Keep them that way. 

Now feel yourself growing again.  You get larger and larger until you are your normal size.  Picture your hands. Look down at them if you want.  Now you know that they, too, are really just a collection of tiny, microscopic parts, full of moving pieces with infinite spaces in between, and all held together by the power of God alone.  Without him, you would fly apart, those useful hands would cease to exist.

Close your eyes again.

Instead of shrinking, now we are going to fly.  Imagine yourself lifting up off of your seat and floating right out the window.  You are going up and and up.  You can see your house, your whole neighborhood below you.  You go higher and higher.  Now you can see the whole city stretched out.  You go higher.  The countryside is like a tiny model of itself.  You go still higher.  You are leaving the atmosphere.  This is all imagination, luckily, so you can still breathe as you go up and up and find yourself floating in space.  Space, empty and dark is all around you.  The Earth shrinks as you fly and further and further away.  You look back at it and it is just a little ball, no bigger than that Christmas ornament.  It is spinning in the empty openness of space.  You look down on it and it seems so small and unimportant, so fragile. The people who walk its surface are so infintesimally tiny that you can’t even see them.  Whole bustling cities have disappeared into nothingness.  You look up and see other planets, see the sun, hot and burning, but here you can see beyond it, and space stretches out so far, as far as you can see, so that even the sun doesn’t seem so very significant as you fly away from it.  Now you’ve gone so far that the sun is the size of that Christmas ornament and the Earth can’t even be seen.  Where is all that stuff that seemed so important?  Where is the you that was sure your every feeling and thought was the most interesting thing that existed?  Just a speck, as miscroscopic as those atoms you examined earlier. 

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭8:3-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”

God is both infinitely large and also infinitely small. He is everything in between.  It was by his power that the universe was made and by his power that it continues to function.  It is by his power that you were made and by his power that your body holds together every second that you are alive.  It is his choice that make gravity work and keeps us all from spinning off into space.  Every minute of our existence only happens because he wants it to.  He is all there is, all that matters in this whole giant, intricate universe.  

Everything is about him.

That is where we start at Christmas.

That’s what we need to remember if we are really going to understand what happened when that same God brought himself down and confined himself inside one of these human bodies.  This is the God we are talking about.  The vast, limitless, all-powerful, all-sustaining God of everything.  We have to start here if we are truly going to grasp the miracle of what He did.

Isaiah‬ ‭40:21-28‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”

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