Tax Cuts

You Americans won't believe this--we didn't when we heard it on the news last night (click on the title for a news link)--but the GST (goods & services tax) is being reduced from 6% to 5% (mind you we still pay PST--provincial sales tax--on top of that; at times we pay upwards of 13% on some items). So mind you, our taxes are much higher, but how often do you remember sales taxes going down?

Out with the Old

2007 - what a year! We began the year with a fairly new addition to our family (it's amazing how much babies grow in a year; I know it's not that long ago, but we have a difficult time remembering how little Nils was a year ago). I was doing some substitute teaching in Iowa and we were desperately trying to discern what God was calling us to next (maybe trying to rush Him at times to get us out of unemployment quickly).

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
But we've also had a lot of things we've loved about the past year:
  • 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
As we used to say responsively with the camp staff: "God is good, all the time. And all the time, God is good." Which is true--even if we don't understand His goodness at the time.

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.


Christmas Time was Here

On Christmas morning, the boys didn't actually wake up until around 8am (which is really good for them). We had breakfast together (Anders helped me make Swedish oven pancakes), lit the last candle on the Advent wreath and read the Christmas story together. Then we opened presents (we had thought about going to a church service that morning to remind the boys what Christmas is about, be we only found one that had a Christmas morning service, and it didn't fit into the morning schedule well).

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).


Merry Christmas!

May the birth of our Saviour be your greatest present today. (And enjoy time with loved ones.)


Christmas Eve

It's a day early, but we lit the 5th candle on the Advent wreath at church during our Christmas Eve service tonight (ours at home is waiting until tomorrow). We sang a lot of carols, read a bit of Scripture and pastor Bruce read a story to the children gathered around him in a rocking chair (Anders was right next to him and was leaning into his lap to see the pictures most of the time). The service ended with lighting candles and singing Silent Night. And a responsive reading reminding us that Jesus came as the light of the world--a light, shining in the darkness. God, dwelling among us. And that's what the last candle on the Advent wreath reminds us of (a good reminder for those of us in the northern hemisphere this time of year where darkness fills the days more that it needs to). And a reminder that we are called to continue lighting up the darkness of this world.

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.


4th Sunday in Advent

Anders is excited about today. We got to light four candles on our advent wreath--that means there's just one left: the Christ candle. Today's candle is the angel candle (not to be confused with the notorious angle candle). So we lit the Prophecy Candle (hope), the Bethlehem Candle (love), the Shepherd's Candle (joy), and the Angel's Candle (peace).

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.


The Little Shepherd Boy

Sunday night we had a choir cantata and dessert banquet at church. Beth and I were in the choir. Anders--and all the Sunday School kids--did a song with us. He was a shepherd for it (he's being camera shy again, so you'll have to put up with the profile). The coat hanger he's carrying is his slingshot; he's David, since David was a shepherd boy. So watch out, Goliath!

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.


Advent, Week 3

Today we lit the Shepherd's Candle. A candle of JOY. I wonder how much joy the shepherds knew before that night. I'm sure it wasn't an easy life. And then the angel shows up with a heavenly host ("host" is a word that has a military denotation to it). "Fear not." Angels are scary beings, not cute little bare babies--they are constantly telling people not to be afraid. "Fear not, for we bring you tidings of great JOY." Pastor Bruce noted today that "fear not" is probably the most given commandment in the Bible.

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.


Final Harvest

I pulled in the final harvest of the year from my "garden" tonight (I needed carrots for supper). There wasn't really a garden--just a few containers here and there. And there wasn't really a harvest. Other than a few odd herbs, carrots were the main crop (I did have a random, unplanted tomato plant that sprung up in early summer; the tomatoes were still going well at the beginning of November, but of course they didn't make it through subsequent frosts). That's one of my issues with living where we live--there's no space for a garden. I love to be a part of that creation process that has been going on since Day 3. There's something about working the soil, sowing seeds, tending the spot and then being able to watch God at work as the plants grow. Of course, harvest brings great satisfaction (though eating fresh non-mass-produced produce is the best part). I did have to break the frozen ground off from around the carrots, but the greens were still looking pretty good.


Fat Santa

Yahoo.ca (I can only assume it was on Yahoo.com as well--if I was more tech-savvy, I'd put a link to it somewhere) posted a video from ABC News about the problem of Santa Claus's obesity. Apparently even then US Surgeon General is concerned that Santa's weight issue will transfer down to the many children who view him as a role model. Wait. When did Santa become a role model for anyone? I don't remember anyone when I was a kid saying that they wanted to become Santa Claus when they got bigger. But they have pretty much done away with his nicotine addition (remember the pipe he used to smoke?). Once they tackle his obesity, then they'll be able to focus on the next big problem: trespassing.

We'll be safe, of course, in highlighting the faith and life of SainPublish Postt Nicholas instead. He fasted at least twice a week.

2nd Week of Advent

Yesterday marked the beginning of the second week of Advent. There are a few traditions about what each candle in Advent stands for, but last week we lit the Prophet's Candle--hope. Yesterday we lit the Bethlehem Candles--prepare. Our culture tells us to prepare by going to the mall. John the Baptist told us to prepare by making sure our hearts were right with God. Our culture tells us to prepare by becoming busy (shopping, baking, going to parties, concerts, pageants--well, you know the routine). God beacons us to prepare by slowing down, reflecting on His love as evidenced by the coming of His Son, and making sure we have room for the coming Messiah.

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.


St. Nicholas

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.


Snow Aftermath

So, yesterday it got up to about 60 degrees F (17 C). Since Sunday evening the snow had turned to rain. By Monday noon it was pretty much gone. Parts of Vancouver and Vancouver Island are flooded (nothing but a few big puddles here). It's still raining today (I guess it's part of a weather phenomenon they call the Pineapple Express--warmer weather from the tropics). Even the national news has commented on how odd our weather is . . . so I guess we'll have to believe the locals. (Unless the conspiracy is much larger than we assume.)


Snow Continues

The snow had a brief reprieve last night around supper time, but by this morning it had resumed. We probably only had 2-3 inches last night, but we're easily up to 8-10 by now--and it's still going. It's a wet, heavy snow, so there's a lot there. I cleared off half the grill so you could see how much it is.

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.


Balloons and 2nd Snow

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.