Christmas Fun

26 12 2008

We had a chance for some sledding Christmas afternoon.  The most fun we had was when we did the Amoeba Sled.  Everyone linked up and we went down the hill en masse.  Another family saw us and thought it looked fun, so they started doing it as well.

I have a picture below with my brother, David, and his kids.


Merry Christmas

25 12 2008

Early morning in the Chicago suburbs.  Samuel wanted a white Christmas.  It has come.  I am usually the first one up wherever I am and I have the morning hours to be quiet, read, think things through.  This morning is no different.  Except that it is Christmas Day.  I am expecting a happy, miserable, funny, joyful, sad kind of day today.  The kind that makes you tired just thinking about.  I have never been one to control emotions well even on good days.

But today is Christmas.  I have a private understanding of Christmas that I know has no basis in historical fact.  But I hold to it anyway.  I know that we don’t know what day Jesus was actually born.  I have heard the theories that it was probably spring time when it happened.  I have read all about the early Christians taking over a pagan holiday and turning it into Christmas.  Okay, I grant all that.  And if I wanted to teach a class about the historical fact of Jesus’ birth I would certainly include all those things.  But today I am celebrating Christmas (and my birthday) and I am going to take a few liberties.

We recently passed the longest night of the year.  I believe it was December 21, but I always get confused on the date.  The winter solstice.  The next morning we woke up to the first day of winter.  This long night and short day is the perfect time to be celebrating the birth of Jesus because it was in the midst of the world’s darkness that God sent his Son.  Jesus did not come into humanity’s spring time or harvest time.  No.  He came in the midst of the long dark nights.  He came as a light in that darkness.  And he came to defeat the darkness.  The problem in Narnia was that it was always winter but never Christmas.  But God changed all of that when Jesus was born.  The light has come into the world.  We may not see the thaw yet, but it is coming.  Spring will come.

Timberley and I love Christmas time.  I am one of those people that begin playing Christmas music in July.  We are staying with my brother and sister-in-law this Christmas and they know how to make things warm and homey for Christmas.  My sister-in-law is a wonderful cook and has treated us to her Christmas traditions from the kitchen.  Samuel is enjoying the sugar charge.  Anna loved Christmas, too.  Her favorite song was O Come O Come Immanuel.  At her baptism on Easter Sunday she requested that song to be sung.  At first I balked, but it was her day.  And then I realized that the song is true even when it is not Christmas.  And Anna lived in a very O-Come-O-Come-Immanuel kind of way.  She longed for the return of Christ.

This Christmas will be a hard, sad time for us this year.  But winter is hard and sad.  It is cold.  It can be lonely.  But that is why Jesus was born.  Because the hardness will be softened.  The sadness will turn to joy.  Cold will turn to warmth.  And most of all, we are not lonely anymore.  For God is with us.  Immanuel has come.

Merry Christmas.

A Musical Week

22 12 2008

One week ago we attended Samuel’s end-of-the-semester piano recital.  He studies piano at the Southern Seminary commnity music school.  He performed an arrangement of Fur Elise by Beethoven.  It was more difficult than anything he had done while we were in Indonesia, but he played with a great deal of confidence and strength.  We were very pleased with him.

Then this past Thursday was the Christmas Cantata at Highlands Latin School.  Dr. Louis Bailey, the music minister at Crescent Hill Baptist Church, teaches music at the school and put together the program.  It was truly a delight and a wonderful way to prepare for Christmas.  The program consisted mostly of ancient and modern Christmas hymns sung by the lower school choir (through grade 6), the upper school choir (grades 7-12), and the combined choirs.  I must say that the lower school choir was the finest group of that age I have heard, outside of professional groups.  Samuel was selected with about 6 other boys and girls from the lower choir to sing solos.  He sang one verse from the English carol “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?”  Sam has a beautiful, clear voice with great pitch.  He did exceedingly well.  (Do you think we are proud of him?)

Below is a photo of the lower school choir with Dr. Bailey is front.  The other photo shows Sam with two of his classmates.

Old Photos

19 12 2008


Going through some old photographs.  Thought I would share some.

Here is Anna with Foxy.  AKA Fat Foxy.  Fooky.  Worthless.  Useless.  (The last two names are mine.)

We found Foxy along with two siblings a day or two after they were born.  The mother abandoned them in front of our house.  Molly, our dog killed one of them.  Marco, the second, ran away after a few months of high living at the foreigner’s house.  Foxy, the third, is still living at our house in Salatiga.  We nursed Marco and Foxy from the time they were just a few days old, and so Foxy doesn’t really know how to be a cat.  That’s why I call him Useless.  But he is also very nice.  He is fat, floppy, completely harmless, and as you can see in the picture, can be held in any position possible.  He is the only cat I have ever seen that will sleep flat on his back with all four legs out-stretched.

The experience of rescuing animals, nursing them to health, having pets run away, and seeing them killed by other animals was all part of the experience Sam and Anna grew up with.  It all led to a deep love and respect Anna had for all forms of life.  Though it often led to sharp disagreements between daughter and father over the way certain household pests should be handled, I am grateful for Anna’s precious love for life.

Been away for awhile

10 12 2008

I have not posted for a while.  I was out of town for the weekend, far from any internet, and then my parents came for a wonderful, but all-too-short visit.

Where was I on the weekend?  Sam and I had a scout trip to Red River Gorge for two nights of camping and backpacking.  Sounds great, no?  Except that the weather report called for freezing temperatures all weekend and snow showers all day Saturday.  The ominous part for me was when I checked the forecast and below the posted low temperature for the day, which was 22, was a brief addendum, “Will feel like it is 12.”  I have never quite figured out why, if it feels like it is 12, we don’t just say, “It is 12 degrees out.”  Our first morning we got up about 6:30.  I slept very little the night before.  What sleep I did get was really my mind slipping in and out of consciousness from the cold.  It was snowing.  I was standing on a barren hillside with my hands in my pockets, surrounded by six other tents.  I could not escape asking myself over and over, “Where are my car keys?

But after some hot oatmeal and coffee my spirits picked up.  It did not seem so cold after we started moving around.  And we ended up having a great time in the cold.

These photos show Sam with his scout patrol (the Scorpions) before leaving for home Sunday morning, Samuel setting up his tent, and Samuel with his tentmate, Charlie Starmer.

What would Anna have thought of all this?  This one is easy.  Before she died Anna whined and complained about not wanting to go to summer camp in Indonesia, Camp Miki.  “Death Camp” she called it.  In the middle of our weekend I pulled Sam aside and said,”Sam, THIS is death camp.  Anna would have hated it here.”  We both had a good laugh.

The Importance of Talking to Yourself

3 12 2008

I began re-reading a book that I have not looked at in years: Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.  I have realized that over the past seven months I have stopped practicing many (more like most, and possibly all) of my spiritual disciplines.  I thought going through his book again might help me to find some direction in that regard.  As I read his chapter on meditation, in which he emphasizes among other things the meditation on scripture, I was drawn to his use of Psalm 42.  I thought perhaps that Psalm might prove fruitful to begin anew my discipline of meditation on scripture.  I was in for a treat.

Each verse of Psalm 42 struck me deeply and cut to the core of so much of what I am experiencing at this point in my life that I was left with the impression that this psalm must have been written just for this situation in my life.  I will not go through the entire psalm verse by verse, although that might prove fruitful later.  I do, however, want to direct you to one verse that is repeated in the psalm and also appears in Psalm 43 following.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in god; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5)

I was reminded of a sermon I had listened to a while back by John Piper.  I am sorry that I do not know the sermon or have a link to it, but at one point he discussed the importance of talking to ourselves.  He said it this way (I am paraphrasng from my memory), “The problem many people have is that we listen to ourselves when we ought to be speaking to ourselves.”  The act of listening, according to Piper, is passive and we do not control what is being said. But speaking is active and we choose what is said.  When we listen to ourselves we often hear messages of depression, fear, doubt, or other negative messages.  The solution, he said, is to take the upper hand and to speak to your soul.  By speaking truth to the soul, we strengthen our faith and are better prepared to fight depression or other negative emotional states.

We see this very thing at work here in Psalm 42-43.  The psalmist says to himself (his soul), “Why are you cast down . . . and why are you in turmoil within me?”  Instead of listening to the voices asking about our worth, we take the fight to the enemy soil.  “Why are you this way?  Why are you feeling so low?  What’s wrong?”  The psalmist continues by encouraging himself (his soul) with the admonition, “Hope in God.”  But why should his soul hope in God?  What basis is there for thinking things will get any better?  The answer immediately follows, “For I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”  The psalmist is able to say to his soul that the future will get brighter because he will again praise his God.  Because of this hope in the future restoration with the Lord, the psalmist takes hope, and he tells himself to take hope.

But what is the basis of this hope?  Is it based on the resolve of the psalmist to get his act together and begin singing God’s praises again?  Is it based on the determination that the psalmist sees in himself to do the right thing?  I think the answer lies in the tone of the whole psalm.  In Psalm 42 the psalmist is crying out to the Lord because it seems he has been abandoned by God and at the mercy of his enemies.  He has been overwhelmed by waves.  Voices of doubt come to him asking, “Where is your God?”  But it seems that the psalmist never gives in to those questions.  Throughout the psalm, despite the various and serious problems he faces, the psalmist never doubts that behind all of his turmoil and problems lies the Lord.  Even when he asks the question in verse 9–“Why have you forgotten me?”–he prefaces the question with “I say to God, my rock.”  I believe that the reason the psalmist can say to his soul with boldness, “I shall again praise him,” is because of God’s grace in granting faith to this believer.

Last Sunday the pastor at Biltmore Baptist Church spoke to the children of the congregation.  On the occasion of lighting the hope candle for that Sunday of Advent, he asked the children if any of them knew what hope was.  One of the boys, perhaps a fourth or fifth grader, raised his hand and said, “Hope is depending on something that hasn’t happened yet.”  The pastor said, “That is a very good answer.  In fact I think it is better than I was going to preach today.”

In times of trouble we have to know the truth.  We have to depend on that truth.  And then, with the psalmist, we need to speak that truth to ourselves and stop listening to ourselves.

Anna’s Memorial at Biltmore Baptist Church in Richmond

2 12 2008

We returned Sunday night from visiting Timberley’s family in Richmond, VA.  We stayed until Sunday so we could visit the congregation at Biltmore Baptist Church where Timberley’s mother is a member.  We wanted to stay because about a month ago they dedicated a memorial garden for Anna and we wanted to see it and thank the congregation.  The garden consists of a park bench and a young dogwood tree.

When we gave thanks to the congregation we noted that the garden was particularly meaningful for us because it was exactly the kind of place that Anna would love.  I told them that I hoped the bench would be used by many children of the church as a place to sit and read.  They could read their Bibles there, or, as with Anna, whatever other books she brought along to church with her.  It is a beautiful spot.