Friday, December 30, 2011

Ten Lords-A Leaping

And OG didn't even know about the (then) upcoming December Blog Challenge when she called out to her siblings, "It's the Seasonal Ball and we have to be 'ten lords a-leaping'!"

Too bad I got to my uh-oh-it's-late-and -I-don't-have-a-blog-post-yet post on the SIXTH day of Christmas!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

We see Him come, and know Him ours...

Enjoying this beautiful music... pondering the deep realities clothed in His coming...

What sweeter music can we bring
Than a carol, for to sing
The birth of this our heavenly King?
Awake the voice! Awake the string!

Dark and dull night, fly hence away,
And give the honor to this day,
That sees December turned to May.

Why does the chilling winter’s morn
Smile, like a field beset with corn?
Or smell like a meadow newly-shorn,
Thus, on the sudden? Come and see
The cause, why things thus fragrant be:
‘Tis He is born, whose quickening birth
Gives life and luster, public mirth,
To heaven, and the under-earth.

We see him come, and know him ours,
Who, with his sunshine and his showers,
Turns all the patient ground to flowers.

The darling of the world is come,
And fit it is, we find a room
To welcome him. The nobler part
Of all the house here, is the heart.
Which we will give him; and bequeath
This holly, and this ivy wreath,
To do him honour, who’s our King,
And Lord of all this revelling.

What sweeter music can we bring,
Than a carol for to sing
The birth of this our heavenly King?
- Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

I have not known this song until yesterday, and I have deeply appreciated pondering it... studying it, like I would a poem. So many things strike me, but predominantly this, today, on the first pass: "We know Him come, and see Him ours, Who, with His sunshine and His showers, turns all the patient ground to flowers..."

Oh, the sweet truth that my sovereign Lord is come, and is mine! And that He promises to work all things in my life--both sunshine and showers--together for good! Oh, sweet joy. Quiet trust.

May I rest as willingly and well as that patient ground, confident of the coming flowers...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Radiant Beams from Thy Holy Face

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

These lyrics have been rolling around in my head all day, taunting and convicting me. Why, you might ask, since these words seem all glorious praise, not words of challenge and exhortation. Well, mostly because of some other words I read this morning, on iivo's thankfulness list. He was dead serious, not being the least bit smart aleck, and yet I was mortified. "Waking before the alarm to slumber in the light of Laurie's iPhone." Ugh! Right there among a list of such glorious things as
- God's word to draw my wandering mind, my fretting heart (Dan 4, 1 Pet 1, Ps 119)
- hope given by God's kingdom coming
- coffee
I do believe that he was thankful to awaken before the alarm, to enjoy a few stolen moments in dozy slumber before the demands of the day pushed him out of the warm bed and into the morning chill of our bedroom, of life. But to slumber "in the light of Laurie's iPhone"?! Not exactly "radiant beams from thy holy face"!

My friend Pam once made a resolution not to use her i-something (phone, pad, pod-touch?) in bed when her husband was there. I don't remember whether I read it on her blog or her Facebook page, but I remember the mild pang that hit me...the vague discomfort whispering from the edges of my mind, "That's right. You know that's right. You should do that, too!"

I didn't. And not because I didn't want to. Not even because I didn't try. I did. Twice. And yet my husband can write those awful words "in the light of Laurie's iPhone" because it still sometimes shines while he slumbers next to me.

Oh, how I long instead to be adorned with "radiant beams from Thy holy face"!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"...the dear Christ enters in..."

Earlier this month, just as Advent was beginning, Iivo and I went on an "Ulti-mate" couples' prayer retreat. Just the two of us (and our workbooks) headed to a private retreat spot and got busy. We got busy examining our lives individually and considering how we're doing as a family. And what did we realize as we "got busy"? Among other things, we realized that we are busy! We are busy as individuals, busy as a couple, busy as a family. Now don't get me wrong. Most of the things we are doing, we are doing with great deliberateness and purpose. And we have made a concerted effort as a family to build "margin" into our lives by eliminating some superfluous activities this year. And yet, Iivo and I both felt an acute awareness of the unavoidable frenzy of this season in our family's life.

One of the things we decided to implement upon our return was what we've dubbed "downtime."

1 : time during which production is stopped, especially during setup for an operation or when making repairs
2 : inactive time (as between periods of work)

This glorious time occurred daily at 5:15 for about a week. Iivo was going into work earlier--it is much more produtive for him to get there before many others arrive--and trying to get home earlier in order to join us. But that first week of nightly "downtime," he wasn't able to make it. Nevertheless, at 5:15, the kids and I gathered in the den. We dimmed the lights and lit a few candles and turned on Pandora Radio's "instrumental praise." And then we began the serious business of making ourselves slow down. "Production stopped." We savored "inactive time between periods of work."

How hard it was at first! "But I need to just..."

Iivo didn't join us, but he felt the benefits of "downtime" immediately. The home he came home to was more peaceful. We were kinder. Happier. Calmer. Even the dogs.

He never did make it to join us, before the week of holiday hit, and with it the stomach flu that swept through our home. "Downtime" was abandoned in a blur of sickness and travel and preparation and celebration.

Tonight, we pulled it back out again. Oh, welcome back, friend!

I particularly love the words to the final stanza of the great Christmas carol, "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is giv'n
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heav'n.
No ear may hear His coming,
But, in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in.

Such a sweet, sweet thing is the reality of His presence with us! And what a very sweet time it has become to stop and marvel in it.

Breathe deeply of Him.


Monday, December 26, 2011

O Christmas Tree!

One of the greatest spiritual lessons of this year's Christmas season came, for me, via our Christmas tree.

This year, we got our tree earlier than ever.  Usually we wait until a week or two after Thanksgiving, heading out together as a family on the weekend near iivo's birthday.  This year we adults were to be gone that weekend, so we headed out the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

I love the many holiday traditions that have developed over the years for our family, especially the silly ones that make sense to no one but to those of us who have lived through the years of making them.  The tradition of heading out to choose from the really great, just-$14.99 trees at Taylor's Do-It Center is one of them.  Many years ago we decided to replace the artificial tree with a real one, complete with the smell and look and feel of real pine, and the then-$9.99 bargain at Taylor's suited the small budget of our small family.  Over the years the family has grown, but the budget for the tree has not, so we've continued to shell out the less-than-twenty dollars, enjoying rather to spend a few extra bucks on a once-a-year lunch at Tijuana Flats, conveniently situated right across the road from Taylor's.  It costs our little brood of six a pretty penny to enjoy this fun, Mexican fare, so this is our once-a-year splurge of grilled burritos and queso and guacamole feasting.

This year the selection of trees was better than ever.  "Maybe earlier is better!" we thought.  We selected the largest, fullest, greenest tree we have ever gotten from the bargain rack at Taylor's!  We cut off the bottom again ourselves, at home, and placed it right into the water bucket.  We mixed the "preservation solution" as instructed, and the tree drank and drank.  For the first year ever, I think, we had a tree that was actually taking in the liquid we kept checking the level of.  Pitcherfuls of the stuff disappeared.

And then it happened.  The drinking tree, greener and fuller than any we've ever chosen, began to drop its needles.  Sure, this always happens, but not like this.  This tree, still lovely and green-looking, was shedding them fast.  If you brushed past it, you heard a shower of needles fall to the ground.   Bare patches began to appear on the branches.

Evergreens, we call them.  They don't drop their leaves.  They are never meant to stand skeletal and empty.  Yet this one, clad only in twinkling colored lights, was undressing quickly.  Hanging ornaments on it was out of the question... every time we even touched it, it would send down that rain of needles!  Winston would stand near it, tail wagging, and with each "thwap" we'd hear the familiar sound of falling pine.  It began to be a joke.  iivo reached inside and grabbed the trunk, giving it a good shake.  A sound filled the room, remarkably like the fake rain drops of "Spring Shower" on the white noise app.  It would have been really sad if it weren't so laughable... so laugh we did!  We accepted the bittersweet reality of The-Year-Without-Ornaments-On-The-Tree.

And I began to ponder these things in my heart.  I became vaguely uneasy about the spiritual lesson trying to push its way into my consciousness.  The quiet whisper of the Holy Spirit began to convict me.  "I am the vine.  You are the branches."  Snatches of memorized Words found their way into my mind.  "If you abide in Me, and My Words abide in you..."  What was that promise?  Snippets.  Warnings.  "If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers."  The words of John 15 weaved their way into my Christmas musings.

I also began to ponder the words Nat King Cole sang to me in German.  "O Tannenbaum," he crooned, and a bunch of other unfamiliar sounds.  I began to wonder what these guttural words meant.  As I studied the literal English transliteration of the original German words, the full import of the lesson began to make its way into my heart.

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree
How loyal are your leaves/needles!
You're green not only in the summertime,
No, also in winter when it snows.
O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree
How loyal are your leaves/needles!

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree
You can please me very much!
How often has not at Christmastime
A tree like you given me such joy!
O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree,
You can please me very much!

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree
Your dress wants to teach me something:
Your hope and durability
Provide comfort and strength at any time.
O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree,
That's what your dress should teach me.

And it is true!  The boughs of the evergreen do stand strong and true and green through all seasons and all circumstance.  All seasons and all circumstance save one.  When cut off from the source of life, it begins to wither.  "You are the branches..."

And so this year we were given the gift of a dying evergreen, the parable of its dropping needles reminding us with each passing day what happens when we do not abide in Him.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Six Geese A-Laying

In the should-have-been-famous words of our dear friend David Harris, who sang them to us those many years ago:

These days are golden
No matter what they say
And you cannot hold them
For they soon will pass away

So, for at least this one more year, there are still six (silly) geese a-layin' around in our bed on Christmas morning!

It took us a few tries, what with our having to take it ourselves and our not being able to see the screen...

Happy Christmas morning!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

...far as the curse is found

This morning we received the sad news that Onu ("uncle") Toivo, beloved brother of iivo's mother, Tiiu, died sometime in the wee hours this morning.  His wife, Elve, found him in his room with his light on at about 5:15, his having already passed from this life.

This has made for a bittersweet morning here in North Carolina, complete with reminiscing and laughter through tears.  Toivo was a very attractive, active man, full of spunk and charm and strong opinions, always ready with a quick smile and a hearty laugh.  At least this is how I remember him.  He lived in New York, and I only met him a few times since I joined this wonderful family twenty years ago.  One particular time, while we visited at iivo's parents' house together, he and I got up early one morning and went for a long, vigorous walk around the New England streets of Groveland, MA.  I remember that he gave me quite a run for my money, even though I was thirty years his junior!  We walked and talked, up and down the hilly streets, discussing everything from water purification to child-rearing to a woman's aging gracefully.  I remember this charming man with such fondness.

"It was around 5 o'clock in the morning when my father died, too," Emi shared this morning.  "I was the one to call the ambulance.  I remember thinking that the sun should not be shining.  It was a beautiful, bright sunny morning.  I thought the birds should not be singing.  But they were.  I felt like I had to do something.  At times like this, I always feel like I must do something.  I remember that I started to clean the kitchen floor.  The police were still there, and I was cleaning the kitchen floor."

Oh, the joyful reality that one day there will be no more tears!  "For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:17).

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

I'm not cheating! I'm just getting a "practice day" head start or two on my friend Pam's December Blog Challenge.

I've been more than a bit absent from the blogosphere lately, and, though I could blame it on the intestinal flu our family has been passing around, it would be a lie.

I am sitting at my in-laws' house in NC...the delicious smells of pork roast and verivorst--Estonian Christmas sausage--wafting through the house...listening to the achingly beautiful strains of Pandora Radio's "instrumental holiday" station...

Life really is so unbelievably rich and wonderful, and I am so sinfully, defiantly ungrateful when I stew around in impatience... Indignance... grumpiness... ingratitude. May I remember every moment of every day those good "tidings of comfort and joy" that changed absolutely everything! What have I to grumble and fret about when the Lord of all has rescued and redeemed me and walks with me in sweet fellowship and the promise of unending faithfulness.