Friday, December 31, 2010

Auld Lang Syne: A Cup of Kindness for Cubby


I read
this today, then jumped to the full article here. Check 'em out if you've ever mumbled through the words to the classic New Year's song or wondered what the heck it's all about. I know I have. Anyway, Miss Noonan's helpful little essay solidified my desire to take a quick break from my series on Jesus' Birthday and write my final post of the year in honor of Cubby. So here I go.

* * *
Between the two of us, Dave and I have mourned the loss of four grandparents in the last six years. Grandpa Wilcox died in 2005. Margie in 2007. Grandma Wilcox and Cubby both passed away earlier this year.

I did not know Grandpa Wilcox very well; in fact, I only met him once. When Margie died, I wanted desperately to write something in her honor. I tried; I filled up pages with notes about her life and my memories of her. But I just couldn't write anything cohesive. When Grandma died this winter, I fully expected to be able to write about her. I didn't know her as well as Margie, my own mom's mother, but I did know her. I felt I had plenty to say too, but... it wouldn't come.


But with Cubby, I knew exactly what I wanted to write before he even died. He went in for a chancy surgery, then spent six precarious weeks in the hospital. Sometime early in those six weeks I remember telling my friend Jess, "I know exactly what I want to say at his memorial service if he doesn't make it." And somehow, miraculously, I did it.

Here's what I wrote and shared.

I have so many precious memories of my Cubby—memories that span 30 years and range from mundane daily car trips to and from summer camp to the day when my grandparents met and held my first child four and-a-half years ago. Many of my fondest memories relate to beach trips with Margie and Cubby during my middle and high-school years. There’s Cubby body surfing the waves at the New Jersey shore; Cubby floating on his back in the quiet evening surf, toes poking up out of the water like little fish; Cubby leading us in after-dinner games of Yahztee, pretending to spit on the dice to increase his odds of a high roll.


But the memories I most want to share with you today are from our last two beach trips with Cubby, in the summers of 2008 and 2009. The setting was the dining room of our rental house in the Outer Banks. I’m going to read to you from a journal entry that I penned the morning of August 24, 2009. We’ll call this “A Tale of Two Dinners.”

“What wonderful fellowship we had around the table last night. Cubby is trying to learn more about the fear of God, after being touched by this concept for the first time during a recent sermon by Josh (our senior pastor here at Covenant Life). As we discussed various attributes of God, as we pondered together what it means to fear and revere God, Cub participated so humbly, so joyfully. He even expressed wonder over concepts that were new to him, like the communicable attributes of God vs. incommunicable attributes. As we talked, I couldn’t help but contrast this with a conversation we had just last year around the very same table. On that night too there were some rather heady theological matters under discussion. As Cubby listened to Dave and Asher (my husband and brother-in-law), these much younger men whose knowledge seemed to surpass his own, he expressed frustration that he didn’t know more of God. Then he grew quiet, withdrawing and ultimately collapsing into what I might describe as a “funk”. Mom spent a long time that night caring for Cub and trying to draw him out of the funk—not to much avail, as I recall.”

Two different years. Same dinner table, same family, similar topics of conversation, same Cubby… totally different reaction. The first year, there seemed to be… pride? Maybe some self-pity? The second year, all that was replaced with awe, gratefulness, humility, delight. Frustration was replaced with hunger, the holy hunger of a heart that has tasted God’s goodness and wants more.


What I learned through this Tale of Two Dinners is that God keeps working in the hearts of his people all the way through their lives. Apparently, the process of sanctification doesn’t end when you hit 80! Now, Cubby had walked with the Lord for many years before he moved to Maryland. But I believe that God kindly arranged the details of Cubby’s last few years so that Cubby would become aware of his need to know God more. Part of that was taking Margie home first. Another part was bringing Cubby to a place where he would have opportunities to learn of God in fresh ways—to my parents’ home, and to this dear church.

And by God’s grace, Cubby was able to respond to God’s work in his life. He read. He watched sermons over and over again on DVD. He started taking classes here at the church, he became a member, he had many challenging conversations with my mom. He stepped outside of his comfort zone so that he could know His Savior more. It was such a joy for me to watch. And he loved it. He loved being part of a care group and making new friends there. He loved learning from our pastors and endlessly marveled over the rich bible teaching we receive here. He grew to love talking about God. I think he loved meeting with God privately each day. One of my last memories of Cubby is of being outside, in Mom and Dad’s back yard, playing with Meg and Matthew. I looked up, and there through the glass of the sliding door was Cubby, in his big recliner, hunched over his great, thick Bible. Occasionally he would look up to watch us for a few minutes. He would wave, or one of the kids would go over to the door and show him a bug they found in the grass. Then he would go back to reading.

In Matthew 5, Jesus promised that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied. In His great mercy, God gave my Cubby an increased hunger for righteousness in his final years on earth. God gave him an increased hunger for Jesus. And now, because Jesus died for sinful people like me and Cubby, Cubby is with Jesus, and he is satisfied forever.


(Photo credit [first and last] Megan Russell Photography.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jesus' Birthday, Part 2

Our problem with presents was mostly a matter of time. Typically, Dave has only a few days off in the month of December--early in December. He had no days off during the week of Christmas, including Christmas Eve. He worked serious hours, coming home long after the kids were in bed. Of course, we could open our gifts on Christmas morning--and we did--but this created an uncomfortable time crunch. Our goal was always to leave our house by mid-morning to make the 4-hour trip to my Gran's house in Virginia and be there in time for a late lunch. This meant that the whole morning was spent rushing. Rush to eat our special family breakfast, rush through reading the Christmas story, rush to unwrap presents, rush to pack the car, rush out the door. It wasn't the way we wanted Christmas to feel.

And did you catch where Jesus fit into that picture? Buried in the middle of a harried half-day. We wanted to do more. After all, Jesus is the hero of Christmas, the long-awaited King, finally arrived, to be marveled at and adored. Where could we find the time to do that?

In 2008, we did a little experiment and transferred the gifts out of Christmas Day. We bought presents and wrapped them early. We stuffed stockings early. We chose a day when Dave was off work early in December. And then, on a random Monday morning, when the rest of the world was headed off to work or school or Target, we opened our gifts as a family. We took our time, enjoying the privilege of giving to one another, as God has freely given to us. The kids got to play with their new toys. We didn't rush anywhere, at all. It was nice.

And when Christmas Day arrived, we spent the morning having our first Birthday Party for Jesus. It was very simple that year. There was a cake with candles. There was a more leisurely, sweet time to read through the Christmas story and talk with our kids about Jesus and why He came. That was nice too. And so in 2009, we did pretty much the same thing.

2010 rolled around, and we had a choice to make. This year was to be different in a couple of ways. One, no big Christmas production. Covenant Life took a more low-key approach this year, a more traditional Christmas Eve service, with singing, a simple Scripture reading, a choir, a sermon... and not much else. No drama meant no weeks of rehearsals. Dave was going to be home A LOT more this December. Secondly, Christmas would fall on a Saturday. That meant church (i.e., work) the next day, Sunday. This meant that we could not travel on Christmas Day; we needed to stay in town until Sunday afternoon, at least. This meant that we would be home all day on Christmas, a shocking and unheard of occurrence! So what would we do with all that time? Just the five of us, at home, all day... should we bring the presents back in?

* * *
Now here's something you need to know about me. I love gifts and gift-giving. I am not an anti-present person. I grew up in a home where we celebrated Jesus thoroughly and gave gifts generously. Though my parents taught us that Santa was a myth, our Christmas carried every bit of the magic that so many middle-class American kids experience. So taking the gift exchange out of Christmas Day has given me pause. Are we robbing our kids of their Christmas magic?

Then I think about what the "magic" really is. Isn't the real magic in the anticipation of something wonderful, and the joyful fulfillment of that anticipation? Isn't the magic about longing for something, hoping for something, and then seeing that something come to you? And doesn't the magic have a lot to do with a family being together on Christmas morning, and repeating much beloved-traditions? If the answer to these questions is yes, well...

Is there any more wonderful anticipation than the wait for our hearts' King?
Is there anything more joyful than the fulfillment of God's promise of a Savior?
Don't we want our own hearts, and our children's hearts, to long and hope for Jesus more than anything else?
Can we not create traditions that will exalt Jesus rather than our own material wishes?

I have a very distinct memory from one of my childhood Christmases. I must have been 8 or 10 years old. We had just returned from celebrating at my grandparents' home in Pennsylvania. The car was unpacked, the gifts unloaded. I was sitting at the top of the stairs in our old farm house, holding my brand new, much-desired American Girl doll, Samantha. She was the gift I had scarcely dared to hope I could receive, and here she was, in my arms. "Mom," I said, "I think this is the best Christmas ever." I believed the words were true when they left my mouth, but they sounded hollow in my ears. And I didn't have the wisdom to understand why my superlative rang false.

The "magic" of Christmas that resides in the gifts we give each other is a pretty thin magic, isn't it? We don't get what we hoped for. We get what we hoped for, and it breaks. We no sooner open our gifts than we start to eye what somebody else just opened. Or maybe we're grateful for what we receive, but we find ourselves thinking, "All that build-up... for this? This small (or big) pile of possesions? These few fleeting hours? Is it over already?"

* * *

It only took one conversation for Dave and me to decide that we did not want to open gifts on Christmas Day, despite the extra time. It was too special an opportunity, the gift of this whole day to focus on Jesus, to muddle it with the presents again.

I'm so glad we made that choice. I really liked the low-key nature of our gift exchange. There was no big build-up; one day the kids woke up, and we were like, "Guess what? We're opening presents today!" But instead of being the Day of Days, the culmination of the whole Christmas season, opening gifts was just one of the many special activities sprinkled throughout December. It took away from my sense of let-down too. Presents may have been over, but Christmas Day was still ahead...

And since we had a whole Christmas Day to fill and no gifts to take up the bulk of the time? We had lots more Birthday Party to plan.

(to be continued in another post...)

(This is the second in a series that began here.)

Jesus' Birthday, Part 1

I write this post with a mixture of hesitation and enthusiasm. On one hand, this blog is mostly a vehicle for little stories and pictures from our every day family life. There are several reasons why I'm committed to retaining that as my primary focus. On the other hand, I've noted that there are some fellow Christian bloggers who are rethinking Christmas. So though I have a very small readership, I'm excited to share what our evolving Christmas celebration looks like, just in case it serves or inspires someone... even one person.

So, rethinking Christmas.

For us, it began because of my husband's job. David works for our beloved church, which often puts on a big musical production for Christmas Eve. For Dave, as Tech Director, this means rehearsals. Lots of rehearsals. And lots of rehearsals means very few nights at home during the month of December. I'm talking... very few. So as some families are coming together to enjoy all sorts of festive activities and traditions, we have typically been preparing to release Daddy for a brief season of intense service.

I don't remember exactly how it happened, but three or four years ago, God led us to conclude that this shouldn't get in the way of our Christmas. That is, we shouldn't feel or act like we were giving anything up because we weren't able to be together in the weeks leading up to Christmas. In fact, we wanted to regard Dave's service as a privilege. And we wanted to teach our children to regard Dave's service as a privilege.

Knowing our sinful hearts, it could well have been, "Well, Daddy just has to be at church until the Christmas show is over. It stinks, but that's our lot in life." But by God's grace, it became this instead: "Christmas is Jesus' birthday, and one of the birthday gifts we get to give Jesus is releasing Daddy to be at church this month. He's getting ready to help our whole church celebrate Jesus' birthday! And there will be lots of people who don't know Jesus coming to church at Christmas. Let's pray that God will use our Christmas service to draw people to Himself."

From there, it quickly expanded to, What are other ways that we can turn our focus outward during Christmas? What are some other Christmas presents we can give to Jesus? How else can we serve? What other "sacrifices" (I use quotes because the things we lay down in God's honor are so, so meager in the grand scheme) can we make as offerings to the King in this season? We started thinking about ways to fill the weeks before Christmas with more joyful giving. It really wasn't difficult--opportunities to give abound, because need abounds.

Then there was the matter of presents.

(to be continued in another post...)

Monday, December 20, 2010

For "Those Who Need a Rescue"

From my friend Megan's blog:

we have it sunk deep into our collective cultural consciousness
that Christmas is for the happy people.
You know, those with idyllic family situations
enjoyed around stocking-strewn hearth dreams.
Christmas is for healthy people who laugh easily and at all the right times, right?
The successful and the beautiful,
who live in suburban bliss,
can easily enjoy the holidays…
We live and act as if this is who should be enjoying Christmas.

But this is backwards.
Christmas—the great story of the incarnation of the Rescuer—is for everyone,
especially those who need a rescue.
Jesus was born as a baby to know the pain and sympathize with our weaknesses.
Jesus was made to be like us so that in his resurrection we can be made like him;
free from the fear of death and the pain of loss.
Jesus’ first recorded worshipers were not of the beautiful class.
They were poor, ugly shepherds, beat down by life and labor.
They had been looked down on over many a nose.

Jesus came for those who look in the mirror and see ugliness.
Jesus came for daughters whose fathers never told them they were beautiful.
Christmas is for those who go to “wing night” alone.
Christmas is for those whose lives have been wrecked by cancer,
and the thought of another Christmas seems like an impossible dream.
Christmas is for those who would be nothing but lonely if not for social media.
Christmas is for those whose marriages have careened against the retaining wall
and are threatening to flip over the edge.
Christmas is for the son whose father keeps giving him hunting gear
when he wants art materials.
Christmas is for smokers who cannot quit even in the face of a death sentence.
Christmas is for prostitutes, adulterers, and porn stars
who long for love in every wrong place.
Christmas is for college students who are sitting in the midst of the family
and already cannot wait to get out for another drink.
Christmas is for those who traffic in failed dreams.
Christmas is for those who have squandered the family name and fortune—
they want “home” but cannot imagine a gracious reception.
Christmas is for parents watching their children’s marriage fall into disarray.

Christmas is really about the gospel of grace for sinners.
Because of all that Christ has done on the cross,
the manger becomes the most hopeful place
in a universe darkened with hopelessness.
In the irony of all ironies,
Christmas is for those who will find it the hardest to enjoy.
It really is for those who hate it most.

_Matt B. Redmond, full article here

Saturday, December 18, 2010

All the Things I Want to Blog About at Length but Can't Right Now (Part 2)



(Esme didn't get one, in case you were wondering.)


-Our 2010 Christmas tree, christened "Cal" (for Calvin Coolidge)
(Thanks to the always astute LT for the idea!)


-Nutcracker Wars

-Snow! And what comes afterward...

(Before the hill)

(After the hill--look closely)




-My ever-growing appreciation for Etsy and excitement over the gifts I purchased there this year

-Christmas crafts!

-Listening to Meg and Matthew sing the first verse of "Hark the Herald Angels" during our Advent celebration: it's quite the musical adventure trying to sing along with them! Each of them can carry a tune pretty well on his/her own or when singing just with Mommy, but get all four of us together (Esme being a non-singer this year), and you get what my mother laughingly referred to as "four part harmony." Maybe it's the octave difference between Dave and my voices that throws them?

-Teaching "What Child Is This" and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" to M&M and hearing Meg sing them to herself as she goes through the house

-Watching my kids during Advent each night

All the Things I Want to Blog About at Length but Can't Right Now (Part 1)

-Our day after Thanksgiving with the Don Nalle clan made me feel soooo very sorry for people who subjected themselves to Black Friday shopping madness. There is a better way, people!!! We took a big family walk in the cold, damp weather, roasted hot dogs and marshmallows in the fireplace, ate a scrumptious meal, celebrated Dad's birthday. Wonderful day. All thanks to my Mums, of course!







-Right before our family photo shoot this year, I put a diaper through the washing machine. Disposable. Clean, thank the Lord! I went to put stuff in the dryer and was like, "Whoops, someone had a tissue in their pocket... Wow, someone maybe had several tissues in their pocket... how did I not notice this many tissues in pockets??? Uh, oh, this stuff looks kind of... crystally. I know this stuff. It's the stuff that spills out on my babies' skin when they have really, really wet diapers... it can't be... it is." So what it is it with me? I have laundry issues? And photo shoot issues too, evidently, since right before last year's photo shoot, I landed us in a car accident. I'll definitely take the laundry issues over the cars, but, gee whiz... what is my deal?

-We're getting psyched about Christmas Day! We'll do our family gift exchange this coming Tuesday (this is a bit later than usual, but it's what worked out). Then we'll have the unusual opportunity to be at home all day on Christmas, so Dave and I are brainstorming ways to have an even better birthday party for Jesus!

-Meg turned 5!!







-Meg is reading! It's been a work in progress for a long time, starting with her being able to identify certain words when she was three. But in the last three weeks? Poof! We have a real reader on our hands! This week, on her own initiative, she made her way through the entire Big Picture Story Bible, reading aloud to herself. It's delightful to listen to her!

-At the beginning of our "school year" (mid-October), I started reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's books to Meg. We just finished the third in the series, Farmer Boy (my fave), today. Meg is enjoying them very much.

-Esme is walking! She started three weeks ago with her first two steps and is taking her time. No super-long journeys yet, but from the look of triumph and exhilaration on her face when she collapses into my arms after four wibble-wobbles--you'd think she just completed the Boston Marathon. Precious.

-Esme is talking! She's been working on it for a while, but she's now to the point where we really feel she's communicating. She melts our hearts with her sweet "Mommys" and "Dadas," and makes us smirk and sigh by using "No" and "Mine" in the same breath.

-And lest you fear that Matthew is getting lost in the middle, let me assure you... he doesn't let that happen.




Thursday, December 02, 2010

Family Pictures

Last week, our friend and neighbor Jonalee took some family pictures for us. What a precious gift to be able to "freeze" our sweet littles at this moment in time, before--blink--they change again! And Jonalee did such a good job getting their many-faceted personalities. These pictures are fairly brimming with all of the energy and emotion and general nuttiness that our kids bring to every waking moment.

There is a little story around the photo shoot that I haven't finished writing yet... maybe soon?