Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas 2009

There's nothing like Christmas with family! And this year, "everyone" was home, both at my husband's family (Christmas Eve) and mine (Christmas Day). Wally's sis cooked a fantastic turkey and spread a beautiful table groaning with food. Gord carved and we laughed and talked and caught up around the dining table. Mom K added her desserts to the abundance, and the bubbly pomegranate juice and hot drinks were perfect accompaniment. The four youngest adults 'escaped' the older crowd and perched with plates in hand on the sofa nearby, snagging seconds without having to push past our chairs. They read the Christmas story aloud to us all.

We headed for my brother's and Carrie's about 10, just in time to catch a cup of tea, a quick visit, a few homemade glasses of juice (Omega Vert juicer, amazing!) and a sound sleep until morning.

30 of us gathered at my Mom and Dad's on Christmas Day. We were only missing one young niece and her husband. There were toddlers and teens, seniors and young marrieds, and everything between. We gathered in Chilliwack (Canada) from North Carolina, Seattle, Edmonton, Kenya via London, Germany, and Switzerland. Good thing our folks have kept the family home for 37 years... we used all three storeys. "Oh, just walking in the door it smells like Christmas at Grandma's," sighed our daughter.

First, everyone settled in: the women chased the guys out of the dining room with a "Servants only!" and had tea and cookies while the bird finished cooking. By 1.30, Grandma had finished making her specialties. The turkey and stuffing were terrific. The young moms fed their little kids while a few of us dished up the entree and side dishes.

One-two-three. The rush for the table by adults, dispersed throughout the house with heaped plates. Then the young women helped tidy and set up desserts. ("No, you can't have any now. We have to do presents, first!")

It's always hard on kids to wait for gifts. We had solved the 2-3 year old boys' competition for the one cool car-with-noise (before opening presents) by sneaking it out of sight when the boys looked away. We put it up on the highest hutch. Out of sight = out of screams and yelps.

Finally it was time to share gifts. "I've never had presents at Christmas before. It's not our family tradition," said one newcomer. Oh well, she seemed to quickly get used to it. (Dahers give presents and love to give more than to get.)

Of course, the youngsters had their moments of temper, noise, and tears. It was all amusing and - for someone like me, with no little kids - great fun to watch parents soothe their own and send them back into the fray.

Then we had the dozen or so desserts and cakes and cookies... and Norm used his Euro-coffee maker that grinds beans and makes killer coffee. Time to reflect, enjoy, connect.

Our clan drove home late on Christmas night with contentment. There's no one like family - and family that is part of God's Family is best of all!

In the quiet, after all the hustle and bustle of the day, I thought about a stable, the manger where a baby was wrapped against the cold, and a young couple wondering at how they would raise a child born so poor and in such strange circumstances. Who knew such an inauspicious beginning would unite us in relationship to God, and bring the wonder of Christmas to the whole world?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Book giveaway - faith questions explored: "40 Loaves"

Do you ever doubt God's promises? Get disappointed with life as a Christian? Feel afraid when you think about suffering or death? Got questions -- or have someone asking questions -- that stump you? How about reading a new book that delights and informs?

Forty Loaves: Breaking Bread with Our Father Each Day by C. D. Baker explores life issues that confuse, feel risky, or just plain make us mad because we don't understand them.

I'd recommend this book as a great resource for 40 days of Lent reading or when you're ready for short devotionals that make you think and say, "Aha!" My copy was supplied by the publisher and is available to give away. Any takers? Sorry the links aren't working: copy and paste it to read more or buy at Amazon:

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Lost Soul of Christianity - guest post

Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity
By Mark Batterson
Waterbrook Multnomah, 2009

Reviewed by Jen Baker

Challenging, funny and smart – words to aptly describe this slim volume packed with pithy, quotable insights on the Great Commandment: love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. We all know what it means, we sing about loving God with all that we are, but are we really giving everything we have within us to love God? If you love someone you want to know them better; you spend as much of your time as you can listening and talking to them. When you love someone, whatever hurts them hurts you, too. The highest power in the entire universe wants to be your source of energy, of creativity and intelligence. Is that what you want, too? Batterson ramps up the heat, not to make readers feel guilty, but to point out how lukewarm love insults God, how complacence traps us in spiritual numbness while God (and the world) waits for His people to wake up and get moving. You’ll find yourself with pen in hand as you read, taking notes and noting quotes. Christians are challenged to rise above the fundamentalist image we’ve created by, as the author says, “tak[ing] potshots at our culture from the comfortable confines of our Christian subculture.” We need a “love that turns work into worship,” and a “sanctified imagination to serve His purposes.” If this book doesn’t energize you, then pick out your coffin, you’re dead! Dare to envision yourself as a walking talking translation of Scripture for people around you to read.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Write back!

One of my regular readers suggested I invite people to post on my blog. I'd love to have responses here for everyone to enjoy rather than keeping them to myself. Please feel free to send a comment anytime if you're reading and agree, disagree, or just have thoughts about what I write.

At the bottom of each post is also a quick comment checklist - feel free to use it anytime. Thanks.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dinner for... 24?

Old friends are the best. My husband has worked at Northwest U for 24 years. With our young kids underfoot, we had a big group of faculty come around that first Christmas for turkey dinner and began an annual tradition.

The kids have grown up, and none were around last night. But about half of the guests at dinner have met over the past 24 years to celebrate Christmas. Some have retired or lost a spouse, and others have moved away. Each year, new friends join the circle: once attending, they become part of the guest list. Our rule of thumb is to issue three invitations. Miss three times and another person is invited in your place. Occasionally someone doesn't RSVP in time, and their spot is taken as we go down the list of people we'd love to have join us.

We laugh and talk about our memories at the university and people we used to know. We always read Christmas scriptures and sing carols. Last year we were snowed out so we met at Valentines. (Nope, no carols that year.) One year we skipped the party because we were building a house and life was simply too chaotic.

We served appetizers for the first time yesterday, goblets dangling from cutouts in our square bamboo plates as we circulated to chat and catch up. A good thing: traffic was so horrific that one carload's commute took 1:40 from the neighboring suburb. The dedicated foursome were exhausted when they arrived, but we were all so happy to see them!

Our turkey, stuffing, and gravy are accompanied by foods that have become traditions by repetition and request. One couple brings their special potato recipe. Others bring home-baked rolls, olives and cranberries, or punch fixings. We always enjoy Ernestine's Pea Salad, made by a member of our education faculty in honor of E, an outstanding teacher who passed away a few years ago. By dessert, we are all groaning over the abundance of the feast. We wrap a few meals for guests with seniority to enjoy the next day.

After everyone leaves, my husband and I put away the leftovers, wash dishes, wipe down the counters and sinks, toss tablecloths and napkins into the washing machine, and fold up the tables.

This morning, though dishes are done, linens are hanging to dry, and furniture is moved back into place, the warm feeling of having friends in the house remains. We are grateful for the laughter and tears we have shared over the years. Thanks, old friends! We love you.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Real abundance

I'm going to quote two writers and let them speak for themselves. I was struck to the heart reading them. I would love your comments as I think about the implications, wrapping up 2009 and moving toward the New Year:

1. For many of us, raised to believe that money is the real source of security, a dependence on God feels foolhardy, suicidal, even laughable... we want a God that feels like a fat paycheck and a license to spend as we please. Listening to the siren song of more, we are deaf to the still small voice waiting in our soul to whisper, "You're enough."

"Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and all things will be added to it," we have been told, often since childhood, by people quoting form the Bible. We don't believe this. And we certainly don't believe it about art. Maybe God would feed and clothe us, in a pinch, but painting supplies? A museum tour or Europe, dance classes? God's not about to spring for those, we tell ourselves. We cling to our financial concerns as a way to avoid not only our art but also our spiritual growth. Our faith is in the dollar...

We are operating out of the toxic old idea that God's will for us and our will for us are at opposite ends of the table... Thinking like this is grounded in the idea that God is a stern parent with very rigid ideas about what's appropriate for us. And you'd better believe we won't like them. This stunted-god concept needs alteration.

On the one hand, we give lip service to the notion that God wants us to be happy, joyous, and free. On the other, we secretly think that God wants us to be broke if we are going to be so decadent as to want to be artists [or follow our dream in any direction]. Do we have any proof at all for these ideas about God?

Looking at God's creation, it is pretty clear that the creator did not know when to stop. There is not one pink flower, or even fifty pink flowers, but hundreds. Snowflakes, of course, are the ultimate exercise in sheer creative glee. No two alike. The creator looks suspiciously like someone who just might send us support for our creative ventures.

The God who has a job for us? The God who has fulfilling work? The God who holds abundance and dignity, who holds a million possibilities, the keys to every door? This God can sound suspiciously like a flimflam man.

And so, when it comes time for us to choose between a cherished dream and a lousy current drudgery, we often choose to ignore the dream and blame our continued misery on God. We act like it's God's fault we didn't go to Europe, take that painting class, go on that photo shoot. In truth, we, not God, have decided not to go. We have tried to be sensible--as though we have any proof at all that God is sensible--rather than see if the universe might not have supported some healthy extravagance...
(Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way, is not a Christian but has a grasp of God's nature and his abundance that is hard to ignore.)

2. Then someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Master, tell my brother to share his legacy with me."

But Jesus replied, "My dear man, who appointed me a judge or arbitrator in your affairs?"

Then turning to the disciples he said to them, "Notice that, and be on your guard against covetousness in any shape or form. For a man's real life in no way depends on the number of his possessions.

"Don't worry about life, wondering what you are going to eat. And stop bothering about what clothes you will need. Life is much more important than food, and the body more important than clothes.

"Can any of you make himself an inch taller however much he worries about it? And if you can't manage a little thing like this, why do you worry about anything else?

"You must not set your hearts on what you eat or drink, nor must you live in a state of anxiety. The whole heathen world is busy about getting food and drink and your Father knows well enough that you need such things. No, set your heart on his kingdom, and your food and drink will come as a matter of course. Don't be afraid, you tiny flock! Your Father plans to give you the kingdom.

"Sell your possessions and give the money away. Get yourselves purses that never grow old, inexhaustible treasure in Heaven, where no thief can ever reach it, or moth ruin it. For wherever your treasure is, you may be certain that your heart will be there too!"
(Luke 12:13-15, 22-26, 29-34. Phillips translation, 1958)

Three questions to self:
1. How are we living in God's abundance today?
2. How are we planning for this Christmas season and the New Year, to make anxiety-free space so that we and our families can rest in his provision and follow him on the paths of possibility?
3. How are we planning to share his abundance as his provision for those he has chosen to bless through us?

I'd love to hear from you on this one. RK

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Peaceful Sunday night. Ah, time to wrap up one week and start the next. I'll be taking time to write papers in the weeks before Christmas, but to be able to relax, the house has to be in order. Between dinners, parties, and other obligations, it's a busy season.

When we were first married, we had as little Christmas decor as the next young couple. Gradually, when our kids were little, our accumulation began to grow. We used to have a 15' live tree each year, so a lot of ornaments and lights dissapeared into its branches.

While I was out yesterday, Jono, Breanna, and friend Rachel put up the tree and wrapped a garland and ribbon around the stair. Other years, we've paid wonderful student helpers, but this year we assigned decorating as the weekend chore for Jono and Breanna. W and I came home from a Christmas party and were surprised at how much they had accomplished... and how many ornaments, garlands, and lights were still in boxes. One of the kids explained, "We like the light look." HA, good line. Sadly for them, I like it better with lots of lights sparking off lots of ornaments.

Since the kids scattered yesterday, we spent the afternoon today placing the remaining decorations. We draped garlands, put the rest of the lights and ornaments up, and decorated the family room and kitchen.

What a chore. We were all tired at the end of set-up; never mind that W and I were invited to a birthday party 35 miles away this evening. We left the kids to put the last ornaments up and stow the rest away. The tree and family room looked fabulous when we got back home.

When our kids marry, we hand off the personalized ornaments bought them each year. It's easy to see what they were interested in: my folks and we bought according to what what the kids did that year. As our teenagers grew resistant to decorating our home, we loaned 5 or 6 bags of decorations to the college. In recent years, we women employees are getting older and less interested in fooling around at work, putting things up and taking them down again. So I brought the stuff back home and we're using it here again.

In the morning, we'll turn on the Christmas lights to enjoy the view. I'll probably swim for a half hour before steeping a pot of tea and carrying a pretty teacup to my desk. Lay out textbooks and completed surveys before sorting and outlining. Tonight, there's pleasure both in finishing a task and in looking forward to the next challenge.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Life tilt to center

It's the weekend. I got in late tonight from a meeting at Molbaks, a perfect place to fill eye and heart with natural beauty. I'm taking time off from my job before Christmas to write papers due months ago.

When I need balance, one of my favorite books is Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. I haven't played with art for over a year. The book uses kind language to smack the self-indulgent and overworked: "If you aren't getting enough hours of sleep, you can do something about that. If you're not creating and taking time for yourself, it's up to you. Life's balance is your own choice."

Ok, then. Being in England a few weeks ago reminded me how fit we used to be when we lived there, walking or cycling for miles, eating healthy home-cooked meals, visiting with people nearly every day, and living in a community of scholars and their families. The message of self-accountability for health and happiness got through over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Thursday, we ate a delicious feast with friends who have become family through our son's wise choice of a bride. We flew to Edmonton the next morning, where our only expectation was to cherish my widowed brother and his children, and to grieve with my sis-in-law's family who had come to mourn their loss. It was bliss to be with family and friends. Everyone brought their gifts - music, cooking, sitting, memories, dancing, laughter, sorrow - we were "just ourselves" to enjoy each others company.

Between tears, rituals, and condolences, the days filled with all the things I love about my family: supporting each other in difficult circumstances as part of life's journey; an acceptance of and interest in people with different traditions; the embrace of those who come near; and the mystery of God's love for us all.

W and I came home in the early morning hours of Monday after a flight and two hour drive. Still, I was relaxed and renewed when I woke, full of the precious gift of feeling loved, not for what we do, but because we are family. Seeing my brothers again reminded me of our shared past, of growing up into the future together, and of our dreams for our children who are adults with defining interests.

In such acceptance, my heart opened and began to tilt back to center. A balanced life means work does not define us, whether on the job, in church, or elsewhere. Our delight and satisfaction comes from knowing God and drawing close to him. From bringing others with us into his circle of peace and comfort.

These next days will be hard academic work, but I'm expecting to enjoy the change of pace. I occasionally miss being home during the day, seeing the aquarium lights flash on, the sun rise to peer into our windows through the forest branches, and exercising in our garage swim spa before breakfast.

To everything there is a season. This one may be full of books and paper. Supported by the kindness of my tribe. And bathed in prayers for my brother and his family.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Happy to be - you and me

Some things are naturally easy. My husband browses a book and traps its details. He can pull out facts years after I have forgotten even title and author. Want to know how to build a canoe of birch bark? Extend your bike by welding on a trailer? What kind of stain to use on cedar siding? Who wrote the treatise on theology of one sort or another? Ask him.

One of my cousins has the gift of organization: her business grows seemingly without effort. Her books always balance. She keeps her home spotless. Even when her kids were little, she washed her kitchen floor every day.

Another cousin is an artist and farmer. Her flourishing shops are filled with unique items displayed against stunning backdrops. Her pets thrive. She and her husband designed a yard with three streams that meet in a pond, surrounded by Adirondack chairs.

I scan a room and instinctively rearrange the space and colors in my head for beauty, welcome, and hospitality. When I hear music, I can play it back and if I let my fingers run across a keyboard, I can accompany a tune the first time through. It's easy to walk up to strangers and strike up a conversation or speak to a room full of people. I like to ask questions and watch people light up as they explain their interests.

Some things are naturally hard. In my mind, words have substance and algebra formulas makes sense. I can guess-timate dimensions within inches. But arithmetic is "slippery" and numbers keep shifting. I can count a list 10 or 20 times--and get almost as many different totals. It used to be very frustrating to lose track, but at this age, I'm resigned to recounting and approximations.

There's a job for everyone. When we find work suited to our strengths, work feels like play. We relax and move through the day, energized and alive in our accomplishments. Doing what we're good at to the best of our ability empowers others. Thankfully, someone else is strong in the area where we're weak and will help us if we let them.

Let's face it... in real life, someone gets to introduce the Queen and others get to clean the bathrooms for her staff. Someone drives her Bentley and others sew her clothing. We don't all have to shine her gilded railings or polish her silver. Some of us just watch her drive by or wave from her palace balcony. We all have value because it's God's privilege to apportion gifts as it pleases him.

Let's enjoy who we are. Let's also be grateful for those around us who are our complements.