Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ringing in the New Year

Clear skies, chilly temps, Boeuf Bourguignon, fresh bread, dear friends and a New Year's Eve to ring in. What a wonderful recipe for a happy, fun, beautiful evening!

It's been three years since we've been up at Selah, JV's retreat house in the Beskydy Mountains, to share New Year's Eve with these friends. What a sweet evening to be together again with these dear ones.

After watching the amazing fireworks display in the valley below (if you've never seen how Europeans ring in the new year, it's quite a beautiful sight to behold!), we brought in the new year by sharing wishes with each other and praying prayers of thanksgiving for all the Lord did in the old year.

May the year ahead be full of the Lord's presence and work in our lives as we press on to know, love and serve him more!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Friends Reunited

Sparkly laughter, bubbly voices, joyful smiles and warm hugs.

That's what happens when these three meet together after two and a half years apart.

Claire went to high school here in Czech with these dear friends, Hayley and Magda. Soon after graduation back in 2013, Claire and Hayley left for college in the States while Magda stayed here for university.

And that was the last time all three of them were together. For best friends, that's a long time.

And for missionary kids, this is the joy, and the pain, in their lives. Deep, meaningful relationships developed during formative years, but now an ocean away. The life of a missionary kid is a rich one, but also not easy.

As these three sipped tea and chatted in our kitchen this afternoon, my heart both rejoiced and ached for them. I wish they could have these visits way more often. It does all of them such good to be together.

I can't pretend to know what it feels like to be a missionary kid, to know what kinds of emotion pass through on a day like today. That's something unique to my kids, and all other missionary kids.

But, as I have often done for my own missionary kids, I can pray. Pray for these three, that their few short hours together would be nourishing and meaningful in order to sustain them until they meet again.

I'm so happy they had today with each other.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Exclamations of WOW

On Christmas Day, while at our JV celebration, a one and a half year old little boy brought us all a special delight.

Enchanted by an old Buzz Lightyear toy being played with by another child, he couldn't help exclaiming for an extended period of time, "Wow, Woowwww, WOOOOOOWWWW!!!!"

His delight totally enchanted me! And his pure joy became the exclamation of the day for all of us.

I wished I'd taken a video of him as he continually expressed his joy, as if Buzz was the newest, coolest and most awesome toy ever made! It made me want to be more like my little buddy.

So today, when I noticed through the window that a beautiful sunset was in the making, I hurried outside to do a little "wowing" myself.

With just my phone in hand, I started capturing the magnificence of a late December sunset over our mountains. In one direction it was orange, and at the same time, in the other direction, pink.

And then a melding of the colors in between. WOW!

As the colors of the sunset continued to deepen, I couldn't just experience it by myself. Not wanting to miss a moment, I quickly knocked on the window and called out to Dave and Claire. Thankfully trusting my giddy "Come our here NOW!!", they hurried to join me.

And together we began admiring God's paintings in the sky.

Every direction you turned was an awesome display of His creativity!

And then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, it was done. But oh my...those few minutes of standing outside this evening were definitely worthy of many exclamations of "WOW!!!!!!!!"

Thankful to the Lord for his glorious creativity that inspires my joyful wows!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Elf is Home

There are a lot of reasons why it's special to have Claire home for the holidays. She's cheerful, loving, engaged, kind and delightful to have around.

She found her old Converse in the closet today!

But another reason is that she cooks, bakes and cleans for me. I call her my "elf" because she's so helpful!

Feeling a bit flu-ish this morning when I woke up, I stayed in bed to try and sleep off whatever was pressing on me. When I came downstairs later in the day, it was to a vacuumed house, clean kitchen and help with dinner.


Two new recipes for the day: Absolutely delicious 30 minute spelt rolls and Tuscan White Bean Soup. Perfect food for the day after Christmas!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas with Loved Ones

"Thank you Jesus for the gift of your birth, the reason we celebrate today!" 

As this sunny Christmas morning dawned at our home, we paused to think of the reason for the gifts around our tree.

And took our time listening to Dave read the Christmas story, talking together about what part was the most meaningful this year, as we always do.

Just as we finished, the doorbell rang. It was our Christmas "angel" coming to greet us. Pani 
Andělová (our dear neighbor lady whose name means Mrs. Angel) doesn't smile for pictures, but she does have a twinkle in her eye when she talks about Jesus! What a sweet Christmas morning visitor.

Then it was on to gifts! And oh how meaningful they were this year, gifts that mirrored our love and appreciation for our Savior.

Notes, gifts and pictures from our kids, a special recipe book from my mother-in-law that she knew I wanted!

And a handmade gift from Caleb to his dad. Any guesses what it is??

Clue: it's to help with his woodchopping

Even Kaylee received a gift!

I once read a statistic that said 71% of dog owners give their dog a Christmas gift. Guess that means I'm in the majority!

In the afternoon we headed over to the Ellenwood's house to join some of our JV teammates in continuing the Christmas celebration.

So very thankful for this group of people who love Jesus as much as I do!

There were special joys in being there, like seeing these two together again after a long separation.

Claire with Hayley, best friends since they were tiny girls

And enjoying all the giving of gifts among the 40 who were there. Each gift had to be handmade, and cost no more than $10 to make. People were SO creative and brought out their best crafting skills for the gifts they made.

What an exceptionally precious day it was for the three of us, celebrating the one we love and adore, and for whom this whole day is about: JESUS!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve on the Square

For many years on Christmas Eve we've spent late nights on town squares in Czech.

Various churches throughout the region host "Půlnoční" (midnight) services to share the Gospel and bring a sweet ending to the celebration of Christmas for Czechs (who, by 10 PM, have usually ended their festivities and gift giving which takes place on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day).

For the first time ever, there was a Půlnoční here in Frýdlant tonight!

Frýdlant advertised on its Facebook page, and news went out through our church and the Catholic church that there would be an evening service. To our delight around 500 people filled the square!

Fusion, our local music ministry, provided their renditions of Christmas music in both Czech and English.

The Catholic priest from our town read the Christmas story from the book of Luke.

And Dave gave the message, sharing parallels of the first Christmas to Christmas today: Christmas goes/went by very fast and was/is easy to miss, the value of the present is not always reflected by the size of the package (a baby in a manger and present day gifts), and the best gifts are the ones that are unseen like love and relationships.

In the end he challenged them to listen to the message the angels brought over 2000 years ago, one of peace and good will.

The way to embrace that message is to recognize that even though the baby was small, he was the greatest gift of all. And if you receive him, you can have that peace and experience God's good will.

I loved watching people's faces as they listened intently, praying that they would hear the still small voice of God in their hearts calling out to them with his love, peace and good will. It was a powerful and monumental evening on our square as God's message was proclaimed.

In past years when Dave would speak for Půlnoční services in other towns, we wouldn't know many people. How special it was tonight to see so many of our friends from church and town, all gathered on the square to share in such a special experience!

We're hoping this will be a tradition now, and that there will be some who will trace their salvation to a message they heard on Christmas Eve!

A Sweet Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve you expect twinkling lights, colorful presents around the tree and a cozy fire in the fireplace.

But a computer?

Well, that's our happy connection to family tonight!

Oh the fun of seeing Tyler, Lara and Judah even if it's on a computer screen!

After finishing our talk with them, we discovered packages, and the cutest drawing, at our door that had been dropped off by my sweet friend, Ingrid and her children.

We continued on with our traditional Christmas Eve dinner of fajitas with all the fixings, and then it was time for another happy computer connection!

Caleb and Haley are in Colorado with Haley's parents, siblings and grandparents. So fun to hear their cheery voices and be able to connect with them!

Soon it was time to get ourselves ready to head down into Frydlant for another sweet part of Christmas Eve.

But that's for another blog post!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Traditions: Old and New

Claire and I left early this morning to head into town to take care of last minute details for Christmas, stopping along the way at one of our new favorite coffee spots.

She's laughing at me as I take the photo, though right now I can't remember why! But oh how sweet to just sit and enjoy each other, and some moments of peace (and a little gingerbread snowman!) before heading out into the fray to finish up shopping.

As we drove home in the evening we laughed at ourselves for having spent the whole day out, the day before Christmas Eve. We've done that every year for as long as I can remember so now it's just tradition. And who doesn't love tradition?!

But we instituted a new tradition today: getting a Christmas tree on the 23rd! We're more in keeping with our Czech friends who traditionally put their trees up on the 23rd or even the 24th. I've never heard the history of that tradition, but for us it was a matter of practicality since we've been gone and couldn't get one until today. I'm thankful there were trees to be had, and thankful to have Claire home to help decorate it!

Know what else is tradition? Having a hard time getting the lights on! Where is Caleb when we need him?! He was always so good at getting them on in just the right way. But since he and Haley are in Colorado for Christmas with her family, Claire and I had to figure it out ourselves. I'd say we did okay!

Well, except for the little bare spot down there at the bottom, which is fixed now that we noticed it in the picture!

In all the years I've been decorating a tree, I've never used white lights (don't all Christmas trees use colored lights?!!), but this year Claire and I decided to try something new. Not wanting to try and recreate our family Christmases of old when everyone was here, we're doing a new thing in some aspects of our celebration. It's good to make those changes every now and then.

But one thing is for sure. In just two days we'll celebrate Jesus and the gift that he is to us all. I'm looking forward to that so much!