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)

Girl Time

I never realized what a “girly” girl I was until I had a daughter.  Ever since I found these pink bunny crib sheets when I was pregnant with Aubrey, it was game over.  I knew pink and green would be the color palette for her nursery, and I embraced the soft, sparkly, sweet side.Bunny Crib SheetsNow Aubrey is old enough to enjoy going to events, and we have been blessed the last few months with some special opportunities for Aubrey & Mommy dates.  In early December, my friend surprised us with tickets to see the Cinderella Ballet.  It was our first ballet ever, and Aubrey cried when it was over.  Her consolation was that as we left we met many of the dancers, and she said “Great job!” to each one.

Meeting Cinderella and The Prince

In mid-December Aubrey and I went to a “Fancy Nancy Tea Party” at our local library.  Fancy Nancy is a character from a series of children’s books (of the same name).  Nancy loves dressing up and accessorizing (she also teaches the “fancy” way to say things as a fun way to build vocabulary).  I like the term “fancy.”  Aubrey used to dress up and say “I’m so beautiful!”  Now we remind her that “she is beautiful no matter what she wears; dressing up just makes her feel fancy.”  At the tea party: the librarian read a book, the children helped decide what things were fancy and what things were plain, then the children made crowns, and had hors d’oeuvres and pink-lemonade tea (pinkies up!).

At the end of the month, Aubrey and I went to The Nutcracker Ballet.  We read a Nutcracker book before the ballet so we would be able to follow along with the story during the performance.  The Cinderella ballet was a local production, and the Nutcracker was done by a national ballet company, so I was interested in seeing the difference.  I truly loved both ballets, but the Nutcracker had a better flow, and created a more cohesive and powerful story in less time.  Part of the difference probably came from the fact that the Cinderella ballet was very long.  I think every dancer in the company was featured– even if it meant they had to come up with 100 new roles; and on behalf of all their moms, I didn’t mind at all.

During the Nutcracker ballet I asked Aubrey what she thought and she said “I have two happy tears because it is so beautiful!”  I love to experience new things with Aubrey because she is so unabashed with excitement and wonder, and I feel like I have permission to join her.

After the holidays passed, one of Aubrey’s best friends Ansley came over for a highly-anticipated play date.  Many weeks ago, Ansley told Aubrey about the movie “Aristocats,” and the girls came up with a plan (all on their own) to watch the movie together for a sleepover.  They literally made the plan over dinner, then Aubrey turned to me and said “I’m going over to Ansley’s for a sleepover!!!”  Amanda and I convinced the girls that a “naptime” sleepover was just as good as a nighttime sleepover, and we would plan a day soon.  Ansley was out of town for Christmas, and all the while Aubrey reminded me of their special plans.  So, when Ansley returned, we had lunch and movie date.  Amanda and I made kitty-cat sandwiches (which upon seeing the girls joyfully exclaimed “Bunnies!”).  They made cat-ear headbands, and created a cozy spot in Aubrey’s room to watch their movie.  They wrapped up the play date by putting together a ballerina floor puzzle.  It was super fun.  I am beyond grateful that my daughter’s best girl friend is the daughter of one of my best girl friends!

Wondering what Dan and Thatcher were up to during girl time?  They were having guy time.  If I hadn’t kept the camera with me for all these occasions, I would happily share pictures of Thatcher sleeping and Dan working out and fixing things.  One of my friends recently shared that she and her husband take turns taking their kids out (one-on-one) for “dates” every Wednesday night.  I thought that was a really neat idea.  Maybe next week, I can take Thatcher to the playground while Dan does a craft project at home with Aubrey, and then we could flip-flop the following week.  How do you spend special time with your kids?

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This Princess loves working with tools!

love, Natalie

Christmas Memories

We have had a really lovely Christmas this year.  One of Aubrey’s favorite things was pretending to be Mary, and taking care of baby Jesus.  She actually has a baby doll whom she named “Baby Jesus” two years ago when she received it as a Christmas gift.  This year she especially loved tucking him into bed (I would often walk into Aubrey’s room and hear “the ocean” playing on the sound machine, presumably soothing Baby Jesus in his sleep.).

We also went to see Christmas lights, baked cookies, took lots of walks, and went to our friends’ pre-school Christmas programs.  Aubrey was thrilled to see one of her best friends Ansley as “Mary” and her cousin Carver as a “Wise Man.”  Observing her friends bravely performing on stage gave Aubrey courage for singing Christmas carols at church in the Children’s Choir.  On Christmas Eve, our church created an entire “town of Bethlehem” with artisans, live animals, and a nativity.  Aubrey and Thatcher loved seeing the donkey, goat, and sheep!  I felt especially blessed this year to be able to sit with– practically surrounded by– wonderful friends who also attend our church.  What an indescribable blessing it is to feel so at home in the sanctuary.

Last year was the first time Dan and I were home for Christmas.  I love traditions, but traditional food (Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas ham, all the trimmings) is not my favorite.  I was so excited to celebrate Christmas in our own special way, and Dan loves a cooking challenge, so we decided to create new traditions for our family.  We planned to have our big “special” meal on Christmas Eve, and just relax with left-overs on Christmas day.  I wanted our Christmas Eve dinner to be meaningful, kid-friendly, delicious, and simple enough to allow for lots of quality family time.

We got to brainstorming, and ended up wondering what Mary and Joseph would have eaten that first Christmas night.  Our research led us to Shepherd’s Pie: root veggies and local meat (usually lamb), grapes, and pine nuts.  Perfect!  (Lamb did not seem like the fitting choice (per taste and also the symbolism), so we substituted chicken, and call our chicken-pot-pie “Shepherds’s Pie” anyway.)  Dan made a seriously delicious pot pie, and the kids and I made pine nut cookies.  Everything was really yummy!

Half way through our meal I realized I forgot to serve dinner on our Christmas china, and I forgot to put grapes on the plate when I took our picture (at least they made it to the table).  But that’s part of the goodness of Christmas, I think.  All of our details don’t have to be just right.  Of all places Jesus could have been born, it was a stable.  I can’t imagine how “not according to plan” that was for Mary, but God came to be with us, right in the midst of our imperfections and forgetfulness, right when we need Him most.

My favorite moments of Christmas this year have been the quiet ones…  Reading Song of the Stars with Aubrey and Thatcher by the glow of Christmas lights on Christmas Eve night…  Seeing the kids play so contentedly with new toys Christmas morning…  Snuggling on the couch with Dan, watching “the fireplace…”  I am treasuring these moments of peace, and hoping you are making some really special memories too.  Merry Christmas!

Love, Natalie