This is probably a little cliché, but it was a year of growth (and growth is change, which always requires adjustment).
- moving to a new home, in a new country
- making new friends & becoming a party of a new church family
- starting a new ministry & struggling with ministering in a new culture
- learning how to lead in a new role
- being far from home & loved ones
- watching Nils learn to walk and start to talk
- seeing Anders learn to ice skate
- days spent at the ocean
- camping in the forests at the foothills of the mountains
- exploring a new area
- a wonderful retreat in the mountains of Alberta
- new friends and "family"
- a trip back to Iowa and Wisconsin
Thank you for being a part of our 2007. As we go into the unknown of 2008, may you be constantly aware of God's goodness in your life and in all circumstances.
So instead we ran over to the care centre by the hospital down the road from us where the husband of one of the ladies from church lives. They don't get a lot of kids there, so the boys always brighten the faces of the residents.
Then we got on the road, crossed the border (there was no wait at the border) and drove down to Monroe, Washington. We spent the rest of Christmas Day with the Wells family. Dave was my pastor when I was in Jr. & Sr. High. It was kind of a connection to home for us (though Beth and the boys didn't really know the family--but it felt like family for us).
We spent Boxing Day (which is the day after Christmas) going down to Seattle. We stopped at a toy train store on the way and then went out to lunch at the waterfront in Seattle. It was cold, but we spent a little time walking along Pier 70 and taking a quick stroll through the new sculpture park. We stayed one more night before returning home and returned to a lightly falling snow (the 5th snowfall of December here--the news says that's rare, so we'll believe them for now).
After the Christmas Eve service we drove around so the boys could see some of the lights on houses (well, mainly Anders--Nils has a hard time seeing much in the rear-facing car seat). Just a short drive, but there are a lot of simple displays that are fun to see. After supper we took a short walk through the adjoining townhouse complex to see the lights there (we had snow on Saturday, but it's almost 50 degrees F today).
May this Eve of the celebration of our Lord's birth find you surrounded by loved ones. And may peace fill your night as you await the dawning Light.
Anders is still singing his song from the Christmas Cantata last week. "Peace on earth; good will to men. Jesus is born in a Bethlehem" (hear it with a slight Caribbean beat). Last week we were invited over to some friends' house for supper. They asked us to read the Christmas story to their 2-year old. Anders likes to fill in what the angel's say with the lyrics from his song.
What good tidings (of great joy!): peace on earth, good will to all people. We've got a long ways to go to truly experience that, don't we? But I don't think God meant us to wait until He returns to straighten things out and bring peace to this war-torn world. I think He means for us to be instruments of peace as well ("Blessed are the peace-makers"). I think I'm off the hook because I'm not out there fighting or causing unrest; but I'm not making peace and I'm definitely not trying to stop wars. And those are good things to be about. But I guess I can also start simple and ask how am I bringing peace to those around me. And I think that can only be done by bringing them Jesus--in whatever way is needed (a helping hand, some food, a kind word, or even the gospel itself).
The wait of Advent is almost over. Christmas is soon upon us! May the coming of the King fill your hearts in new and wonderful ways this season.
It is amazing, though, that the Son of God's arrival was only revealed to magi, who were searching for signs anyway, and shepherds--common, everyday people. The angels didn't appear to the religious authorities, governing officials or the elite. Shepherds were given the honour of welcoming Christ into the world. That's part of the good news--God comes for us common-folk (sure, He's for the elite as well, but it's the outsiders that tend to get some attention for once in their lives). He's in the manger, awaiting our adoration.
Fear seems to be always looming over us in today's society. I have fears. I fear that I'm failing at what I'm called to do. I fear that I'm not as great a husband or father as I should and could be. It can be easier to live in fear than in joy.
But joy is what we're called to--at least, it's what God desires for us to experience. And we have to be receptive to it. I can't imagine the joy the shepherds must have experienced when they did what the angel told them to, ran into Bethlehem, and spent time in the presence of God's Son. I know the joy I experience when I'm with my boys or with newborn babies. I can't imagine how much that joy would be compounded if the baby was Emmanuel--God with us. And really, that's all we need to remember to experience that joy--God is with us. And He invites us to come before Him.
We'll be safe, of course, in highlighting the faith and life of SainPublish Postt Nicholas instead. He fasted at least twice a week.
I struggle with preparing--in some ways it takes more effort to slow down than it does to go with the flow of the busyness of the season. But if I want to be a part of what Christmas is truly about, prepare I must.
Yesterday was Saint Nicholas Day (or the Feast of St. Nicholas if you're from that school). We've been talking for a few years about how we want to do Christmas. While we've enjoyed the Santa Claus tradition and don't have any scarring from it ourselves, we haven't been sure if we want to pass it on entirely to our children. Partly because of the deceptive/lying part (though it may be fun imaginative pretending) of telling them that Santa Claus exists, but mostly because it puts more emphasis on getting rather than giving (Anders is already in the mode of wanting everything he sees). And Anders is old enough this year that he's going to remember what we do. Our last few weeks have been quite full, so Beth and I didn't get as much time to discuss it as we would have liked.
St. Nicholas day quickly snuck upon us. We ended up wanting to honour St. Nicholas--the historical inspiration behind Santa Claus (if you want another interesting inspiration google "Christkindl"--it's the German tradition that we get Kris Kringle from, but it's not what you'd expect). We ended up gathering around the Christmas tree and telling the boys a brief story about who St. Nicholas was--a man who loved God deeply (he was a pastor like Pappa we told Anders) and gave to people in need. We each got a present in celebration of St. Nicholas, but we also talked about how we're giving some toys and clothes to a family that our church is sponsoring because it's more important to give to people who need rather than getting more stuff ourselves.
This may freak my parents out (and maybe others of you as well), but Santa won't be visiting our house this year. Now, I'm not one of those who is going to say Santa is satanic or anything like that--but I think Santa as He has become known in our culture is less and less about what Christmas should be. So, we'll observe Saint Nicholas Day and have a few gifts under the tree, but we're going to try to focus more on the gift God gave us in His Son.
I'm hoping in the future we can have less presents under our tree and do more giving to those who have real needs. Maybe when the boys get older we'll try spending some time serving at a soup kitchen or a similar place on Christmas Day. This isn't something weird that we're doing because we're in Canada. It's part our journey into following Jesus more deeply. It's getting harder for me to celebrate His birth by spending a lot of money on my family who already has enough when Jesus was pretty specific about taking care of the poor, the homeless, the widows and orphans. So I think we're going to try and focus more on slowing down, preparing ourselves for Jesus' arrival during the advent season and giving to those who go without food, shelter or other basic needs; and we'll try to focus less on the rampant consumerism and trying to please ourselves (isn't it odd that we go straight from giving God thanks for all He has given us at Thanksgiving right into making our lists of what we want for Christmas?).
There are a lot of interesting perspectives out there on how Christmas should be celebrated (some of them admirable, some fanatical, some just sad). It's important to spend time with those you love (it'll be our first Christmas away from family--it's going to be hard); and spend time loving others. However you celebrate Christmas (or St. Nicholas Day), may you experience the fullness of God's love for you through His Son, Jesus Christ.
I'm not sure that they have snowplows here (okay--I'm sure they do somewhere, we just haven't seen any out). It wasn't too bad going to church this morning--but we've mainly got one road to travel and it had a fair amount of traffic on it. Most people didn't try to come out for church. Now if it was the Midwest, it would have been no big deal for people to go out. But it is here (especially since other drivers are a little suspect on their winter driving skills); it makes a difference when the roads aren't cleared and it is a heavier, wetter snow.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent (so happy Advent, to all of you). Even though we had few people in church (or maybe because of that), we had a nice service. The first Advent candle is the prophet's candle--a candle of Hope. In slowing down for Advent (well, it's what we're meant to do--go against the flow, people! Don't let culture drive your Christmas) and anticipating the arrival of God into the world, we hope in what is to come. And there is much hope for us.
After the worship service we had a meal together and many people stayed to make Advent wreaths (I guess this is the 4th year they've been doing it, so it's becoming a good tradition for many families). We only had to bring a pie plate, candles and any additional decorations we wanted (Beth's festive creation is below). Advent devotionals were available for families and adults as well.
By the time we left church ( a little before 2pm), we'd had at least 4-5 inches of snow. Some vehicles (including our 4-cylinder, front-wheel drive) had trouble in the parking lot. And the drive home was a bit tougher (the roads didn't appear to have been cleared at all yet). But we made it. And it's still snowing. The forecast for tomorrow is 13degrees C (about 57 F) with rain. Welcome to winter in the Vancouver area, I guess.
Last night at church we had a fun night (Friday night activities are a new thing. We're doing six week of programs--children, Jr. High, adults--and the 7th night which was last night was a fun night. Then there'll be a break for a few weeks). Anyway, for the kids the brought in a local clown. Anders, for some reason, has an apprehension against clowns--he's only seen them in parades--oh, and on Dumbo. Maybe that explains it. The husband of Anders' Sunday school teacher picked him up and started watching from a distance, gradually moving closer. By the time they were by the clown, Anders was okay with it. He was the first one she made a balloon for--he chose Spiderman. I was impressed with it. Spiderman's "web" (the white balloon) popped at one point, so Anders was devastated, but someone took him to get it replaced. He gave Spiderman to me to hang on to for the rest of the night. He's not to fond of cameras, but wanted to show off Spiderman for FarMor to look at while she's recovering.
We're getting our second snowfall today. It's been going since early morning and is still going at 3pm. It's a light snowfall, so it hasn't amounted to much--but they're saying it could be 10cm by morning (5 inches). It's nice because we don't get much wind, so it's another nice, peaceful snowfall. Everyone says it's pretty rare that this happens--but we're beginning to think it's a conspiracy.
After supper (well, after we got Anders to try some of his food), we went out for a quick play in it. Anders did some sledding down the small rise behind our house in a make-sift sled (Rubbermaid tote). Nils came and joined us for his first romp in snow--he wasn't sure what to think. He did a ride with Anders in the "sled." We're taking advantage of it while we can--most likely it will be gone by mid-day tomorrow.
I love nice, gentle snowfalls with big flakes--especially at this time of year as we enter the Advent Season. I know that it was probably spring when Jesus was born and not winter (the shepherds were probably out during lambing season); but after growing up in the Midwest, snow helps make it feel like Christmas (I'd have a terrible time living in the South).
But snow, as Isaiah says, reminds us of how white Jesus will cleanse our dirty rag of a soul from sin. And a gentle snowfall is a fitting reminder of how God chose to enter the world--quietly, unobtrusively as a newborn baby, out of the way in a feed trough. And for some reason, the snowfall makes everything feel peaceful--which is why Jesus came: to bring peace back to a fallen, chaotic world.
For the record, the last few days have been around 6 degrees Celsius/Centigrade (that's about 43 Fahrenheit). We have had to scrape frost off the windshield a couple mornings. Last year this time (on Christ the King Sunday), the church had to cancel because of snow. So, we'll see what the winter brings. We're good either way.
My family & Beth's family have always done wonderful meals at Thanksgiving. So, if any of you read this please don't take offence when I say that this was one of the best meals we've had--it was all spot on for my palate. It was a blessing, too, to be a part of their family as they went around the table sharing what we're thankful for (which we just touched the tip of the iceberg on that, or course).
Beth and I both worked today, so it doesn't seem like the Thanksgiving we're used to (of course it's not--especially since Canada celebrates in October). It's one of the first big holidays that we've been away from family for (Christmas is going to be hard to be away as well, of course). And not that anyone can replace our families or become substitutes for them, but we're becoming surrounded by family here, too. Jesus said that it's not our biological family that we'll have the deepest, most meaningful relationships with, but our brothers and sisters in Christ (those with whom we become part of the family of God with when we acknowledge Him as our Father and become His children by following Him). Of course it's a bigger blessing when our biological family is included in our spiritual family, but God does put us in relationships no matter where He takes us--indeed, God is a God of relationships (He longs to bring us into relationship with Him & with others; God Himself exists in relationship in the Trinity). So I'm thankful for all the people God has brought and is bringing into my life. And He is good. All the time.
- Watching Nils walk--especially when he's scuttling toward me with a gleeful expression, rushing to give me a hug
- Listening to Anders sing praise songs
- The soft warmth of my wife's skin
- The dark, damp smell of the forest
- Clear, cloudless nights full of shimmering stars
- Discovering ocean life with the boys
- Watching Nils "dance" to music
- Listening to Anders use his imagination when playing with his Star Wars figures
- Those deep, meaningful conversations when the Spirit connects you with someone
- The beauty of a majestic, snow-capped mountain peaks
- Cuddling with my family
- Moments with Jesus
So, for my grandfathers (and the many others both now and throughout history) who both served their countries to secure the freedoms we have and secure the liberties of others who were under oppression, I pause to give them honour and to pray for peace in a world that does not need any more destruction brought about in it.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Coincidentally (if you believe there are coincidences), today is also the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. There are more martyrs in today than at any other point in history.
Let we forget.
The picture is of him opening his first present at breakfast this morning (Star Wars figures--Beth bought them, not me; she thought it might be good if he had some things that Anders has so they can play together and learn to share). That's all for now. It's late. I'm tired and I have to be ready for church in the morning. So stay tuned for pictures of the party. Good night. (Sleep well, Nils. I love you, son. May God continue to keep you safe as you grow, and may you discover His great love for you.)
I met him today. I only first saw the truck last night (though, apparently he had been there since Monday night). He had run out of propane, so he couldn't cook his food (and I presume it was his heat at night as well). He came to ask for money to get some more propane. I got his story in the process. He was let go from the job he had at the government liquor store a while ago. He's hoping to get a job at the nursery by church when the poinsettias start coming in in a couple weeks. It's just him and his dog, down on their luck.
Of course, the fact he had worked at a liquor store put up a red flag--but it still seemed like I should help him. I'm never sure how to deal with the homeless or others who need help. Of course, I want to help them, but I'm never sure whether I should give that person with the sign on the street corner some money or not. I'm not sure whether I can trust them to actually use the money for food or whatever they say they need. I want to make sure they're good stewards with my money.
Of course, it's not my money, is it? And I'm not commanded to make sure they're good stewards. I'm told to help those in need (without much evaluation as far as I can tell). Sure, discernment is needed--which is why my dependence upon the Holy Spirit is critical.
I did end up giving him $20 (US--which won't go as far here now, but it'll buy a tank of propane; it was all I had, too). I probably should have gone with and paid for the propane so I could make sure that's what the money went for. But I felt it was the right thing to do. It was hard to say no to him, after we've been out of work and people took care of us. And I connected him with a guy from our church for a few days of work. And I prayed for him--which is the best place to start, I think. Actually, I think talking to him was the best place to start. It's good to put a face on homelessness.
The American side of the Arch is inscribed with the words "Children of a Common Mother;" the Canadian side, with the words "Brethren Dwelling together in Unity." Within the portal of the Arch on the west side are the words "1814 Open One Hundred Years 1914" and on the east side, "May These Gates Never Be Closed."
I had invited people to bring pictures of people who were now with God. During communion, I placed the bread and the cup at tables where they were surrounded by the pictures; the people were invited to partake of the Lord's Supper in the communion of the saints. During the message I invited people to share stories of how people from their cloud of witnesses helped them fix their eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). I started with sharing about my grandfather, Paul Wenell, and how he taught me to work hard, love life (he was a joker) and make time for family and faith. He would always read the nativity story to us at Christmas before passing out presents (reminding us of what the greatest gift we could receive is). He went through a painful battle with cancer without fear because he knew that his true home was in Heaven.
Even now, though All Saints Day is past, take time to remember people in your cloud of witnesses and how they have helped you fix your eyes on Jesus. And let it inspire you to be a witness yourself, leaving a lasting legacy in the faith.
Yesterday afternoon in the few hours between me coming home from church and going back for stuff in the evening, we took a quick drive over to Blackie Spit for some wildlife viewing and kite flying. There was a nice breeze that made it super easy to get the kite up. (Under his cold-weather-gear, Anders is wearing his Spiderman play costume and frog boots)
We then did a quick drive to Crescent Beach on the opposite side of the peninsula for some ocean fun. Nils loved being in the water. He would have gone for a swim if we would have let him. I think it's mostly the joy of stomping and splashing.
In other big news, Nils is walking. Sort of. Last night, Beth and I sent him back and forth between us for a while. He was doing 6 steps on his own. He hasn't really done too much else without a little encouragement from us, but he's almost there. You can watch a video of him in action on Beth's blog (click the link on the right).
Of course, we still had to let the boys have their fun. Anders was Luke Skywalker (it's actually a different costume from his Obi Wan costumer from last year); Nils was Yoda (Beth knit a hat and feet). Some houses got really decked out. But a lot of houses didn't do much. But Halloween seems to be a pretty big deal in some ways. The stream of trick-or-treaters was fairly steady (I guess people like the town house scene, because it's fairly safe and you can do a lot in a short time). Most were teenagers, but unlike in Pomeroy, Iowa, they all wore costumes and were in groups with parents with them. We've also heard more fireworks than we did in all of July (except for the big, civic-sponsored events of course). Our British-born, next-door-neighbour tells us that it's because of Guy Fawkes night on November 5 (but that's about all I know with that). My favourite part of the holiday is roasting pumpkin seeds.
Here's some of the next door neighbour kids with the boys. Trick-or-treat?
It was a 4km loop with 3 observation towers along the way. Anders was pretty careful to avoid stepping in dog excrement (irresponsible dog walkers is a whole other rant). But somewhere along the way his foot managed to find a pile of poop, I discovered as I was carrying him on my shoulders at the end of the walk. We tried to wipe it off on the grass--with little luck. Dog poop sticks with you, it seems--and it seems to smell worse the longer it's around.
Today was Friends Sunday at church (it's a more casual service with a meal afterward that people are supposed to invite friends to--personally, don't think we should change the way we worship for the sake of making church more "inviting." I think we should be inviting people to experience Jesus through our life (explore the faith through talks or a friendly Bible study) and let worship be a place where believers come to glorify God and visitors can experience true worship. But that's just my opinion, and I'm glad to work within the system as need be). Anyway, the point I'm working toward is that the Worship Committee asked Beth to share some of her life story today (no sermon--just a testimony on these Sundays). She talked about forgiveness: the incidents in her life that have required it, how hard it is to face still, the amazingness of God's example in forgiving us.
Not forgiving (and all sin, for that matter) is a little like dog poop on a shoe. You can ignore it and leave it there all you want, but it's just going to get worse. And no good comes of keeping it there. I'm always saddened when I hear people on the news (Christians, especially) who have gone through a tragedy in their lives, but refuse to offer forgiveness. Anger, bitterness and grudges (besides leading to the dark side) eat away at us. They do no good. We think that in not forgiving, we maintain strength and power--but instead, we've let unforgiveness take control of us. True strength comes in forgiving (plus, Jesus says God won't forgive us if we don't forgive others). So wash that poop off your shoe!