Thursday, December 30, 2010

My apology to "Whatcom Places"

I mentioned in a previous post my long-time friend, Logan. My family became friends with Logan because he happened to move to our little town in the Northwest corner of Washington the same week that we did. It was fall of my senior year and he was a sophomore- in my sister's class. My sister, Logan, and I stuck together to try to figure out this interesting community where everything closes at 5:30pm, where we were the only ones that hadn't worked the berries in the summer (although I'm proud to say I have now!), and everyone went to church Sunday after partying Saturday.

The first time we went to Logan's house we discovered a book on his parent's coffee table called "Whatcom Places". (Whatcom is the county Lynden is in). We flipped through the pictures laughing. "These places don't exist! Who makes this stuff up?! What kind of angle is that anyway?" It became a long-lasting joke that the whole book was a farce.

I was thinking about "Whatcom Places" as I drove home after running errands this morning; a fresh blanket of snow on the Canadian mountains as well as Mt. Baker, blinding sunshine, and green grass. I thought, We were so wrong.

I have now lived here for about 8 years and I have seen most of those Whatcom Places. They are not exaggerated. They are not photo-shopped. They are real. So with a sigh, I must concede. I am sorry Whatcom Places, that I doubted you. I was wrong in my mockery.

This truly is my view as I pull out of my driveway to drive to the gym in the morning- only my view is better because the sun rises in the back and shoots out all shades of pink and yellow.
I know! This looks made up. But I confess, I drink coffee here regularly and this doesn't even show the indoor/outdoor fireplace.'s real. I wouldn't believe it but I've walked it.
Mt. Baker. I've skied it and the view from the top is just as good.
Yes, I thought it ridiculous a town should have such high standards for lawn maintenance. But I've conformed. I love these streets.

But please, don't tell people about our little corner. I'm afraid if people knew they might come in droves... and I've actually become kind of partial to a small town.

Monday, December 27, 2010


My long-time friend Logan left a comment on one of my blogs that resonated with me:

I've personally found it helpful to embrace the whole Advent season and not just the Christmas feast. The four weeks prior to the celebration of Christ's birth are for penance--not in the sense of walking around all depressed but in the sense of annually remembering the brokenness of the world and preparing our hearts to receive him (making a straight path for the Lord by dying to self and giving mercy to those around us). If Christmas is all feast and no fast, we will miss the joyfulness of the occasion. And, as you point out, Christmas itself also looks forward (to Easter morn). And Easter itself looks forward to the day when we see the fullness of the promise come to pass.

I thought a lot about advent...and the lack of observing it in my own case. Unfortunately, I didn't begin stewing on this until mid-December. I did find a few ways to not only observe advent but also teach our kids about preparing their hearts and am planning on implementing those next year.

One topic that came up a lot this month in conversations with other parents is how to focus on Christ during Christmas and how to not get carried away in a current of materialism. We definitely have our share of presents because while S. and I get one present per kid and one pair of new pajamas...they have an abundance of grandparents, a great-grandma, a few great-aunts and uncles, as well as aunts, uncles, and cousins who can't let Christmas slip by without blessing them with new things.

We enjoy presents, but we've also been intentional to build traditions that aren't wrapped. Christmas Eve my father-in-law gets into town and we go to the Christmas Eve service with him and my sister-in-law, Megan. This year my sister Jasmine's family was asked to blow out the candles at the service after we sang "Happy Birthday Jesus".
We have Christmas Eve dinner with S.'s family and then brand-new pajamas to open. (Yes, I bought myself pajama pants and wrapped them up...only to find S. also got some and wrapped them for me.)
Christmas morning we have breakfast with S.'s family at our house. Then our kids attempt to listen and not squirm too much as S. reads. This year he read some prophecies from Isaiah,
followed by blowing the shofar (ram's horn) to symbolize Christ's coming, and then read the Christmas story.

Of course there are presents that seem to last for hours, followed by playing with those presents which lasts until lunch and nap time.

After naps all the Taylors pile into my parent's house along with my siblings and their families, other extended family, and some good friends. This year we had over 30 people... and 13 of them were ages 6 and under.
After dinner my dad reads the Christmas story and all of the kids act it out. This never ceases to be entertaining. This year 11 children between the ages of 2-6yrs. participated. There were tears over who gets to play what role, rogue wise men interrupting the angels, and lots of improvising. (For example, wise men and shepherds both got crowns because who doesn't want a cool Burger King crown? Also, the stuffed puppies who were supposed to be the shepherd's sheep doubled as gold and myrrh when we realized we were short on gifts for Jesus.)
(Gage did exceptional as Joseph considering this is all new to him!)
The Nativity re-enactment ends and the kids sing us Christmas songs (and by 'the kids' I mostly mean Darla. The angels took the stage and Darla began reciting lines that we didn't know she had memorized for the occasion. My sister Ericka raised her eyebrows and whispered, "We're going to need a bigger stage".)
The kids get to open more presents. This is them all trying to hug my grandma at the same time in a chorus of "thank you"s:
The kids' treat on Christmas is to blow out Jesus' candles and eat cupcakes after another round of "Happy Birthday Jesus".
Once the kids are settled with new toys, us adults get to have a white elephant gift exchange This is the best way to have an inclusive one feels left out as long as they can bring a random gift. (Yes, my grandma ended up with a fish that said "Stop looking at my bass".)
It was 9pm when we left my parent's house. Our kids were beyond exhausted for our hour drive home. As we neared our neighborhood Darla summed up our celebration well (with a yawn), "Wow. We were sooo blessed today. I didn't even KNOW that Christmas could be like this. It was the best ever."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jesus wasn't a Dutchman

My kids are growing up in a very different world than I grew up in...and I don't feel like I 'grew up' that long ago. There are obviously negative aspects to this, but there are also some amazing things about it.
For example, international travel was not even a consideration to me when I was young. Other continents seemed impossible to visit and it never crossed my mind other than in history or geography.

My kids have cousins who were born in Africa. They have had an opportunity to learn a lot about Ethiopia and love what they know about the culture. They ask Gage lots of questions (but I did have to tell them that I don't think Gage really rode a lion. I think he enjoyed the rapt attention and got carried away in his description.)
Both the white and brown-skinned cousins have a safe place to ask questions about differences, about why brown skin still has white finger tips and if your birth mom is white then is it possible to come out brown? (Hudson informed me he wishes God will give him brown skin.)
Because we are homeschooling, we get to use our own reference points as we look at other countries and cultures. We have dear friends who are missionaries in India, in Honduras, in Argentina, and more. Another good friend went to London and because we face-timed him while he was there, Hudson learned that when it is morning here, it is night there. He is constantly asking what time it is in London and how that works.

Darla wants to move to South America and live in the rainforest because she is fascinated with the animals. When we looked at Argentina on a map and I reminded her that Carissa and Emmy are missionaries there, she asked "will you e mail Emmy and ask her if she's seen any of these animals?"

Awhile back we took care of our dear little friend Halle for the day.
Hudson thought he was being a help at lunch saying, "Look, Halle- dabo!" I wasn't sure what he was doing so didn't pay attention. But then later on a walk he said, "Halle- makina! Makina! Car, Halle."
Then I realized that my son was speaking Ahmaric because Halle has brown skin. Darla realized it at the same time and said, "Hudson! Halle was born in TEXAS."
I burst out laughing. We showed Hudson where Texas is on a map and explained that it's not quite the same as Ethiopia.

Last week Darla overheard me telling my mom on the phone about a Native American baby who needs foster placement. She interrupted with, "Mom! Can we take him? It would be so fun to learn another language!"
More explanation given; more learning about Native Americans.

When the kids were coloring some nativity sheets this month Hudson said, "Darla, did you color their skin brown?"
"Kind of. Jesus wasn't white like we're white, Hudson."

One part of homeschooling that Darla and I love is each week we read about a tribe or people group that doesn't have the Bible in their own language. We pray for them and talk about defining points of their culture. Darla is thinking she might like to go bring some Bibles to some people.
Although, she also has a hankering to do some digging in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt... once she found out all that was found in King Tut's tomb. Thank you internet- when she was interested in the assigned King Tut book we were able to go online and find all sorts of pictures and information to teach us more.

Hudson told me in the car today that for Christmas we should go the Himalayan mountains because "Mom, the snow never melts!"
Darla added, "Plus we could see some snow leopards."

I never had an urge to go to the Himalayans. I never cared to push around sand in Egypt and unless it's to zipline, the animals of the rainforest actually make me a little nervous. But suddenly it all sounds fun to do with these curious little sponges I live with.

The topper for me was Hudson a few weeks ago: "Darla, are you going to marry a boy with brown skin or white skin?"
"I don't know yet Hudson because I haven't decided who I'm going to marry."
Hudson got a shy little smile and said, "I want to marry a girl with brown skin...from Ethiopia."

Popcorn Balls and Burnt Lips

This week in my attempt to make a holiday treat that my kids could help with, I found a recipe for popcorn balls. We had a fun (messy) afternoon making and then eating them. I let Hudson stir the butter and marshmallows while Darla got the popcorn popping. We have a couple rules when helping in the kitchen. One is, "Do not touch or taste anything until you ask Mom."

Well, when butter and colored marshmallows are mixing, swirling, and melting in a big pot, it's easy to get foggy brained. Hudson's excitement was building and in a moment of weakness he pulled the wooden spoon out and gave it a good lick.

OUCH! Eyes big, lips quivering, Mom yelping "DON'T DO THAT!" Pulling ice out, running the cold water...
"Oh, Hudson. I didn't tell you to not taste it because I was being cruel. I told you that because I knew it would hurt. It is so, so hot."
(Which cued Hudson to look at me like, "Really, Mom? It's hot? Thanks- I almost forgot about this blister reminding me.")

For a moment, Hudson thought that he knew best. He forgot that there is a reason I have rules and structure- so that he doesn't burn himself. I'm not the fun-police, I simply know what is best and want to protect my son. Our popcorn making day was also a day I was stewing on what 'freedom' really means.

Isaiah 28 and 29 contains passages about people thinking they know what's best for their lives. They forget that they are only the clay and believe that the Potter doesn't know what is best. Isaiah 29:16, "You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, "He did not make me"? Can the pot say to the potter, "He knows nothing"?

I have talked to many people who believe that following Christ will rob them of their "freedom". I used to roll my eyes when a student would say, "I just want a break from the God thing for awhile. Not that I don't want to be a Christian- I just want to do my own thing." My eye rolls have turned into alarm as I have heard adults say the same thing in the past year. If we are following this line of thought, we have no understanding of what a relationship with Christ is or who He is as the Potter.
"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?" Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." John 8:32-36

My little brother would tell you this from his journey fighting alcohol. What began as a 'fight for freedom' and 'doing what I want' grew into something that enslaved him. It impacted every area of his life and every relationship. He tried repeatedly to overcome it on his own to no avail. Only after he surrendered to Christ did he truly began understanding that Jesus would set him truly free. He understands that Jesus warns about drunkenness because he knows what is best for us. He isn't the fun-police, He is the Potter who knows the stubborn, self-reliant clay more than the clay is willing to admit.

When my sister Megan moved in with us nearly five years ago, she mentioned that she knew she should stop smoking. Then one day she told me she went for a drive to have a smoke. As she was driving it hit her that she was missing out on family time...just to have a cigarette. Suddenly it was clear that something had a hold on her that was robbing her of God's best. She realized that she felt guilty coming in to play with our kids while smelling like smoke, and at that moment was driving aimlessly while we were all having a great time at home. With God's help- she quit.

That wasn't just a learning moment for Megan. I saw clearly at that moment it's not just about removing something that is "bad"'s about the good, the Truth, God's better plans, that go in place of what we are enslaved to.
The beautiful thing was that God didn't just want Megan to 'stop smoking' because it's a rule. He had intended something wonderful to replace what was monopolizing her time. He replaced it with rich relationships, and time with her niece and nephews (which has turned into one of the most important relationships in my kids' lives).

"What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:21-23

Friday, December 17, 2010

Reflections from time in a gold chair

One of my favorite things about December is the early mornings, before anyone is awake. Okay, early morning quiet times are always a favorite part of the day, but I crave it even more when there are Christmas lights and the smell of pine to accompany me, my journal, my Bible, and a hot cup of coffee. My kids even call our gold upright chair "Mom's quiet time chair".
The other morning I had my hands wrapped tight around my Christmas mug to warm up while I contemplated this year's Christmas. As I was praying, a wave of discouragement washed over as I remembered last Christmas. We have come so far in a year's time but "memory triggers" have a way of transporting you back to memories and emotions that forget progress.

Last year was lousy as my husband was plagued with anxiety and depression. Each fun event of this December reminds me how lonely and exhausting the last one was. Even though we had dealt with anxiety for a couple years, S. hit an all time low and I hit a wall after trying too long to hold our lives together. It was the lowest point in S.'s life and though I trusted the Lord and believed that transformation was coming...there wasn't yet a light on the horizon and I wondered if my hope was in vain.

As I sat in my gold chair, I was frustrated with myself. I should be celebrating that anxiety lost it's hold on S. last February. I should be rejoicing that we are actually enjoying Christmas without frantically planning church services, answering emergencies, and planning events during everyone else's break. This is the first year S. can Christmas carol with us and our neighborhood because we don't have to do ministry two nights a week.

I told the Lord that I didn't like having mixed feelings, or having the true meaning of Christmas tainted because of painful memories. As I prayed, I thought about many people who struggle through holidays. I thought about S.'s family who are cruelly reminded every Christmas of so many family members who have passed away. Losing loved ones makes Christmas feel foreign and unfamiliar. I thought of friends who are lonely as missionaries in foreign countries, aching for comfort and familiarity of home. I thought of people who have endured tragedy, or have broken relationships that strain celebrations.
"Argh! Lord, these hurts put such a damper on celebrating your Son on earth! It stinks that people's pain, memories, and losses are accentuated during this season when we should be focused on what your Son came here for."

Then clear as day: Wait. Isn't this exactly what the 'Christmas message' is about? What do you think the Son came here for?

"Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David. To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in the darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." Luke 1:69, 77-79

In that moment I felt renewed awe for Jesus' sacrifice- that He would bring His holiness and perfection and put it in the center of smelly (literally in the case of the manger), filthy, sinful misery. Ugliness doesn't taint Christmas. Christmas is about God coming to the center of ugliness with a Master plan for redemption.

Those who know grief, loss, and brokenness are the ones who can rejoice most at Christmas time. Those who know that left to our own, we mess things up and then wallow in self-pity. Those who know the emptiness in a season where we crave being filled. We have a need for a Savior. Not a need for warm fuzzies around the Christmas tree, for the perfect pie, for our kids to be home for the holidays- but a need for a real, in-the-flesh God who came to wipe our tears, to be a "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).

Often Christmas is a reminder that the story isn't complete. Yes, Jesus has come and we can receive forgiveness and restoration in Him. But many promises are yet to come. Affliction on earth still exists and we still wait for our 'happy ending'.

"He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe tears from all faces, the rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; For the Lord has spoken." Isaiah 25:8

Now THAT will be the perfect Christmas. Death swallowed up, relationships restored, wrongs made right.

As much as I wish Christmas only had rosy connotations, our failure and shortcomings are bringing me to understand (and desperately grab for) God's grace. I understand more that the Nativity I picture in my head- sweet, smiling shepherds and observant cows... falls short. Jesus came into a world filled with groaning, unrest, doubt, and pride.

I am certain now that nothing can ruin Christmas because the Lord always fulfills His promises and has said,
"He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of his father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." Luke 1:32, 33

Ahh... to celebrate what has come and what is yet to come, I'm going to grab a candy cane and hot chocolate and resume my spot next to the tree.

Monday, December 13, 2010


One of my big hopes in homeschooling Darla this year was that my boys would have bonding time. Hudson has been dependent on Darla for his entire life and I wanted to intentionally push him toward Everett.
The first month was rough; Hudson missing his sister, Everett wanting to spend school time on my lap with my face in his hands so he could focus my eyes on himself.

As we start week 11 of school I have noticed a huge shift. This morning I was reading to the 'school girls' and could hear my boys laughing and playing pretend. (I was only interrupted each time they had to tell on each other for using bathroom humor.) An hour went by and I realized they had played peacefully together the entire time.

Everett has become Hudson's little mimic. When Hudson is talking, Everett is quietly mumbling- repeating every word Hudson says. He still calls Hudson "bruthy" but gets mad if anyone else calls Hudson "bruthy". Occasionally he'll say "Brother" but never says "Hudson" even though he is more than able to.
Last night it was quiet in the boys' room. Then Everett came out, dragging his blanket, into the living room. With concern in his eyes he said, "Bruthy not coming."
"What do you mean?"
"Bruthy not coming."
"Good. He knows he's supposed to stay in bed. Now you stay in bed, too. Good night."
Reluctantly, Everett went back to their room.
Curious, I followed. When he sat in bed he was on the verge of tears. "Bruthy not coming a my room!"
"Bruthy's not coming to your room?"
I looked up on the top bunk to what Everett couldn't see from the bottom- Hudson sprawled out and sound asleep.
"Everett, do you think Bruthy's not coming because you don't hear him when you talk to him?"
"Yeah." (Lip quivering)
"Everett, Hudson is asleep. He's not talking because he is asleep. Look. Now you go to sleep, too and please stop talking to him when he's sleeping."
Satisified, Everett promptly fell to sleep.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Radical (and Steve Carell)

"Taking back your faith from the American Dream" is the tagline of the book Radical by David Platt. I recently read it because- well, because it was free. My dad preached a series to go along with the book and somehow a copy ended up on my counter.

I had a lot to stew on as I went through the book. Specifically I was reading what Platt had to say about God creating us. He cites the verse "God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.'" Gen. 1:28
Platt says, "God gave his people his image for a reason- so that they might multiply his image throughout the world. he created human beings, not only to enjoy his grace in a relationship with him, but also to extend his glory to the ends of the earth."

I was nodding and skimming at this point- yes, yes, I know that God loves us and his purpose is that we glorify Him. It was a few pages later during Platt's application that I stopped in self-examination. Bear with me as I quote:

"If you were to ask the average Christian sitting in a worship service on Sunday morning to summarize the message of Christianity, you would most likely hear something along the lines of "The message of Christianity is that God loves me." ... "The message of Christianity is that God loves me enough to send his Son, Jesus, to die for me." ... "God loves me" is not the essence of biblical Christianity. Because if "God loves me" is the message of Christianity, then who is the object of Christianity?
God loves me.
Christianity's object is me.
Therefore when I look for a church, I look for the music that best fits me and the programs that best cater to me and my family. When I make plans for my life and career, it is about what works best of me and my family... This is the version of Christianity that largely prevails in our culture.
But it is not biblical Christianity.
...The message of biblical Christianity is "God loves me so that I might make him- his ways, his salvation, his glory, and his greatness- known among nations." Now God is the object of our faith, and Christianity centers around him. We are not the end of the gospel; God is.

There is more explanation (including emphasis that God does love us deeply, unquestionably) but I'll let you pick up the book if you want more than the gist.
How often do I remember that I'm designed to be a little mirror walking around this corner of the world- not looking good so people say, "Man, Shilo sure looks good" but with the purpose of reflecting the image of my Maker?

I am looking with fresh eyes at ways that I- and my culture- attempt to "Christianize" the American Dream.
To emphasize these thoughts, S. and I were channel flipping the other night and watched part of the movie "Evan Almighty." (Now, I'm a Steve Carell fan but I don't typically go to him for spiritual insight.) There is a part in the movie where God is calling him to build an ark and in the process everyone thinks he's gone crazy. He's suspended from his job in Congress and his wife can't handle it. She essentially says, "You really think God would have us move here, have you lose your job, have our "stuff" threatened and lose our reputations?!" She's indignant that God would do any such thing.

S. was gracious as I began spouting off over top of the movie dialogue. "Isn't that true!? Don't we question that God would make us do something that would threaten the American Dream? Surely God won't make me give my stuff up?! God won't let me move down the corporate ladder. God loves me! If God loves me then certainly that only leads to blessing, to healing, to respect. He wants me to overwork, too- He knows that I need a nest egg. He wants me to have the things I enjoy."

I suppose if it's about me then that is where it ends. Yet if it truly ends with God and the revelation of His might not always look the way we imagine. Often it does lead to healing, to blessing, to respect. But I don't think Steve Carell's wife (I call her Lorelai Gilmore- seriously...have I resorted to getting my insights from the Gilmore girl?) recalled that Jesus called the disciples to abandon their jobs. They looked crazy for the duration of their lives to onlookers. Noah did not have respect. Following Christ does not necessarily line up with our American ideals.

S. had a conversation with a student awhile back. She was discouraged, feeling like God was not talking to her. It became apparent that she was living for herself; making self-indulgent choices, spending time with people who are incapable of encouraging her faith, and trying to "get hers". Then when her life became a mess, as it inevitably does when lived with "me" at the center, she would quickly read a few verses and resort to frustration that God wasn't answering, rescuing her, and giving her what she wants.

Am I making subconscious "lists" for Santa Claus...I mean, God... expecting Him to be my personal helper in achieving my dreams and my ideas? When He gives me what will best glorify I glorify Him? Do I reflect His glory whether that means getting a job or losing a job? Do I reflect His glory whether that means healing or remaining sick? Do I avoid true sacrifice because I assume that He wants my comfort above His glory?

May I not stop at receiving God's love and grace. May His abundant love and grace in my life demonstrate His worthiness.