The Forest, the Trees, and a Dirty Barn

This Christmas a startling thought crossed my mind: “I wonder if Mary ever felt like a failure as a mother?”  I mean, just think about it.  An angel comes to tell her that she has found favor with the Lord, and that she is going to carry and birth and raise the Son of God, who is destined to save all mankind.  No pressure, right?

Mary must have believed that God is sovereign.  That He is bigger than us, bigger than our mistakes, bigger than our choices.  But when Mary first felt those pains of labor, did she feel panic?  Was she afraid that she was “ruining” her King’s birth by welcoming Him into the world in a dirty barn?  Did she worry about having enough milk, enough patience, enough time for little Jesus after his siblings were born?  Did she worry that when she left Him behind at that Passover Festival that she had failed God?  Did she ever lose her temper?  Did she ever lose sight of God’s promise through Jesus?

I wonder how Mary felt when she saw her son crucified.

This Lent and Easter season, I have felt a little bit like a failure.  I don’t know if you guys remember how crafty and thoughtful I was about Advent last year, but let’s just say I pinned a few things I made.  I have always loved Christmas, but oh, Easter!  Easter is even more magical to me in so many ways.  I love the season of Lent: it usually narrows and clarifies my focus.  Maundy Thursday is always incredibly moving.  And the new life that bursts through on Easter morning!  To me, Easter is the reason we even celebrate Christmas.

Warren W Willis Camp Cross


Well… we have been busy.  It sounds like the most lame thing I could possibly say.  Even though we have been busy with important things—like our adoption paperwork, and fund-raising, and family dates…  I kept pushing off planning for what was really important.  I lost the forest in the trees.  I think of how a certain little child stood before the lion Aslan and couldn’t even articulate his excuses.  What seems so important and immediate in our daily lives just pales when we come into the strength and eternal presence of our Heavenly Father.

And that is who He is.

Today I was feeling regretful about not doing more Easter devotionals myself, and with our kids.  It really hit home when Dan suggested we take our kids to an Easter egg hunt so they would “start getting excited about Easter.”  That should have been my job these last few weeks, right?  Making activities, doing crafts and devotions, probably a countdown (on the kids calendar that still says “March”)?  I want my kids to anticipate Easter with the same tingles that come with Christmas!  To know and love our traditions, to understand the meaning of the day, to take time to stand in awe at the foot of the cross.  This year I feel like I am racing to catch up to the cross before Jesus moves on.

But that thought makes me stop in my tracks.  Jesus didn’t “move on” from the cross to chat with the folks who weren’t “too busy.”  On Easter morning, Jesus sought out His friends.  The ones who fell asleep when He asked them to pray for Him, the ones who denied Him, the ones who were too afraid to be known as his followers, the ones who failed Him.  He pursued them and surprised them.  He ate with them.  He stuck with them.  He reassured them and prepared them, and even left His spirit with them to guide the way.

Warren W Willis Camp Dock

Today I felt God interrupt my thoughts and nudge me, saying “It is about Easter Day, but it is also about Easter every day.”  I will truly never be enough.  I will never be a perfect Christ-follower, or wife, or friend or Mom.  I may have failed with Easter crafts this year.  And it’s a guarantee that I will fail in some way again.  Soon.  One of my best friends and I keep saying the same thing lately- how every decision we make now feels like it will affect our kids eternally.  How do we choose the right orphanage to work with?  Or which kind of school our children should attend?  How can we make sure that they make the right friends?  Will they know they are really loved?  Will they understand God’s love?  Sometimes it’s terrifying to be a parent.  But that’s okay.  God doesn’t need me to be enough.  He is enough.  He has a plan for my children that I cannot even imagine.  And it’s not up to me to fulfill it.

It’s up to me to live every day in the light of Easter.  To be ready for Jesus to surprise me wherever I am, to make time and gather up my children and my courage to come to Him—and tonight, that’s at the foot of the cross.  If I see Mary there, I’ll give her a hug.

love, Natalie

(photos were taken by Graham Foster at Warren W Willis Camp– where I first fell in love with Jesus)


Advent Crafts

This is what has happened the last couple of years: November comes and I am so excited for Christmas.  I think about making an advent calendar, and even talk with one or two of my wonderfully crafty friends about making plans to do so… And then it’s December.  We get a Christmas tree, and enjoy our advent readings, but the craft ideas go the same way used wrapping paper goes with Dan’s side of the family: saved for next year.  (By the way, does anyone else’s family save wrapping paper?)

This year, I wanted things to be different.  I feel like Aubrey is at this magical age in which she understands and grasps so much, and her imagination and sense of wonder are just bursting out of her– and neither one of these qualities (can I call them “knowledge” and “faith”?) diminishes the other.  Essentially, it is the perfect combination for “getting” Christmas.  So I set out to actually follow through on my crafty advent plans.  My main goal was to create tangible, kid-friendly tools to help my family understand and celebrate Christmas.  I also hoped they would be fun & cute!

I began by thinking about making an advent calendar like this one.  I talked with my crafty friends, and after drawing up a sketch, I realized this might be a bit too ambitious.  Thankfully, my sister Val came to the rescue with a very simple and lovely alternative!  She even bought all the materials and set up craft time.

We started with burlap canvases (pre-made), then laid out a grid with string, and stenciled in numbers 1-25 with red paint.  I hot-glued two nails to a “Star of Bethlehem” shaped cookie cutter, and we move the star to whichever day it is (the nails go right through the burlap– easy peasy).

I originally thought I wanted an advent calendar with pockets.  You can put all kinds of fun things in the pockets– ornaments, gifts, a daily scripture reading, a wintry activity for each day (like ice skating or making a gingerbread house, etc).  After some consideration, however, I realized what would happen to a calendar with many pockets: each pocket would be searched each day.  Pockets are irresistible to children!  If I had a calendar with pockets for each day, I would only put something in the pocket of the “assigned” day anyway, so now that I had the calendar part done, I decided to make one big “pocket” to go along with it.

I am not much of a seamstress, so I thought a basic drawstring bag would be the best solution.  I already had the linen fabric, and I knew I wanted a star shape on the bag as the counterpart of the calendar.  I bought some shiny embroidery floss, and went for it.  It was my first embroidery project, and I’m so happy it turned out really looking like a star!

All the meanwhile, I was searching for an advent devotional that was relate-able (simple, meaningful, fun) for our young kids.  I found a wonderful resource through a sweet friend, and decided to make ornaments that correspond to each day’s theme.

(you can click on any picture in the blog to get a bigger view)

I was amazed at how fun it was to paint each one!  It was very relaxing, and I found myself doing my own devotions as I worked on each theme.

Aubrey and Thatcher have really loved our “Advent Time” so far.  Every day, usually after dinner, Dan or I reads a short verse, and then we talk about it in a very simple way.  We sometimes do a related activity– I think my favorite so far was pretending to be Mary and Joseph on our way to Bethlehem.  As soon as I described the “special activity” Aubrey jumped up and said “I’m Mary!  Daddy, you can be Joseph.  Mommy, you are the donkey!  Thatcher can be the baby donkey.”  Aubrey stuffed a doll under her shirt, dumped all her pretend food into her duffle bag, and rode on my back from her bedroom all the way to Bethlehem (aka the living room).  Originally, she tried to pack her pot and all her plates in the bag as well, but Dan/Joseph explained it would be a long journey, and we wouldn’t be able to bring everything.

Each night after our reading (and activity if we come up with one), Aubrey and Thatcher open up the star bag to find a surprise.  As “surprises” we have been giving them elements of the nativity set as they relate to the theme of the day (an angel on the day we talk about the angel bringing the news to Mary, a sheep on the day we talk about the shepherds, etc).  And come to think of it, I’m glad I ended up making the star bag, because I don’t think the stable would have fit in one of those calendars with 25 pockets!  We have included a few little treats every now and then.  This is also where the ornaments come in handy– since we don’t have a nativity piece for each day.  To be honest, it’s a bit anti-climactic for Aubrey when she only finds an ornament as the surprise.  She was excited to hang the first few on our Christmas tree, and she seemed really impressed with the donkey (“Mommy, how did you get the donkey on here?”  “I painted it on.”  “But how did you paint it like that?”)… But after the first few days she started telling me “You can do it” when I asked if she wanted to hang the ornament.  She’s ready to move on to the next thing (which is most likely whatever Thatcher has already moved on to :)).

And that’s okay.  I’m happy that our kids are having even a little bit of fun with the things that brought me joy to make!  They don’t need to treasure each little moment.  I think I may be doing that enough for all of us.  And every night when we tuck Aubrey into bed, she asks “What day will it be tomorrow?!”  wondering which number the star will move to next on the advent calendar.  It is so neat that she gets excited each night– that she is eagerly anticipating the day that is coming, wondering what might be planned, already celebrating what she hopes for…  And isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?

Love, Natalie

Star of Wonder

I have been a bit too busy lately.  Part of the busy is the necessary grocery shopping, cleaning, etc.  Part of the busy has to do with vital, but less straight-forward tasks like making decisions about Aubrey’s education/school and working on adoption stuff.  The last part of the busy is fun stuff that I love to do, but stay up way too late doing (more on that fun stuff in another post soon).

When I feel too busy, I try to drop things off my list, but I looked over the list today, and most of it actually needs to get done.  I will never rest if I wait until I check off everything on the list.  I must discipline myself to rest in Jesus while I “do.”  Or take a break from doing, and spend time resting at the feet of the Lord.  And really prepare my heart for Advent.

Dan and I haven’t missed the coincidence in preparing our adoption paperwork during Advent time.  It has been a special time for us, and we feel like we are connecting with Advent in a new way this year.  The longing, the anticipation is almost palpable.

Tonight as I was praying, asking Jesus to slow me down, and help me be more still and more present, an image came to mind…

Dan took this photo right after Thatcher was born.  If ever there is a time when the world stops turning, when time of day, and to-do’s mean nothing, it is after a child enters your life.  I look at myself here, and I see complete peace.  A glimpse of heaven on earth, a gift of the image of God in my arms.

What must Mary have felt that night Jesus was born?  The very Image of God in her arms?  The Gift of salvation for all mankind resting on her chest?  The Bible tells us she treasured these moments in her heart.  I wonder how often she looked back on those treasured moments as time passed…  Did she think on them when she was tending to her children, cooking dinner for her family, and keeping the home in order?  Did God gently remind her of the first Christmas when she worried?  Surely she clung to those precious memories when Jesus hung on the cross, and her baby boy gave up his life for the world.

When I think about preparing for a baby, I think about “nesting.” Getting everything in the home and nursery ready, safe, and cute.  The weeks leading up to Thatcher’s due date, I literally wanted to put Dan, Aubrey, and my home on lockdown.  No one was leaving until I went to the hospital.  A place for everything, and everything in its place.  Of course, that wasn’t what happened, but my hormones were telling me that it should.  Mary was doing the exact opposite as Jesus’s due date approached.  She was leaving everyone and everything familiar.  With only what could be carried by a donkey.  She put her faith in God, and allowed Joseph to lead her to Bethlehem.

My favorite Christmas image is the star.  I love that God actually put a star in the sky above Jesus.  It is a symbol of searching for, and finding new life.  It just occurred to me tonight that Mary didn’t have a star to follow.  She wasn’t watching the sky to show her where to go.  She was just trusting.  And that most wonderful and mysterious night, a star shone in the sky because a baby was cradled in her arms… The Bright and Morning Star.