Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Focusing on Christ - Planning an Evergreen Candle Service

On November 30th our church will host an Candlelight Evergreen service to prepare our hearts for the holiday season . The social committee (which I am a member of) will be planning the event and doing the work. The following photos and information as to how the service is conducted are posted here for those interested in attending to gather further information about what to expect out of the evening.

What is the service?

The 4 weeks preceding Christmas (commonly referred to by many as Advent) is a period of time, not a single day or moment. It is a time of preparation, of readying oneself to celebrate the true meaning of the birth of Christ. It is a time that Christians can contemplate the years of waiting the Israelites experienced for the arrival of the Messiah, and in so doing, gain renewed hope and faith as today we patiently wait for His return.
A candlelight evergreen service is a beautiful, reverent way for anyone to enter into the Christmas season and help people focus on it's truest blessings. It is especially helpful at a time (immediately following Thanksgiving) when our culture becomes bombarded by the commercialism & secularism of this time of year. This with the added frenzy of activity many experience can lead families & individuals to lose track of the very important reason they are even celebrating - to remember the birth of our savior.

The single most important element in the service is the mood. The right mood of the person carrying it, the mood of the children - and, most importantly of the parents, as they come into it, is absolutely essential. Every step and detail must be thought through and planned (and every mistake and disaster anticipated) so there is no hurrying, no flapping about, no hesitation, no furtive whispers exchanged ("what do we do with the apples?" "Oh no, the wax is dripping on the pine branches"). One can thus see that the participating families must be thoroughly prepared in advance for what will take place!

Basically, the idea is this: a large walking path is created of pine greenery and interesting branches. It is decorated with pine cones and other wintry items from nature. In the center stands a non wobbly stump with a flat surface - on this stands a large pillar candle, lit, a large Nativity set could also be there. Outside of the walkway someone stands with a tray with one red apple per person. The apples will have been cored and a small candle put into each. . One adult carries the trays and hands an unlit apple candle to each person as s/he in turn comes up to the path. Why an apple? The fruit represents the fall of man into sin (Adam & Eve in Eden), the red color symbolizes the blood of Christ that was shed for our salvation. The lit candle placed within the apple signifies the individual placing & keeping Christ in the center of their life and following the light he imparts to us. The evergreens used to create the path remind us of the everlasting life we can have through Jesus Christ.

The room is dimly lit. Someone might be gently playing Christmas carols on a harp, lyre, flute or piano. A few people softly humming spiritual Christmas carols can be very nice. What you don't want is lively singing! So no "Jingle Bells"!!
The room should be all set up first and families collect in another waiting space. No one can be late!!! Everyone takes off their coats and gets sorted out before coming into the room. Everything should be as quiet and peaceful as possible - the children should do their running around and shouting outside before they come into this room - once in there the mood must be quiet so they can absorb what will take place in the room. Babies and toddlers can be a challenge - but if this really is done properly and if the parents are fully on board and carrying the right mood in their hearts, most tiny ones are completely swept up by the reverential mood and not a peep is heard. When everyone is assembled in a separate room and ready to enter the service, a Bible reading on the birth of Christ will be done to set the mood and get the hearts and minds of the participants ready.

So now everything is set and the leader opens the door to let everyone into the dimly lit room. Other adults in the room start to gently hum carols - or an instrument is played. Everyone is ushered to their seats quietly without talking, but all may choose to join in humming carols if so desired.

Everyone is now seated. Someone who knows what they are doing begins - there is no verbal instruction, no welcome, no little speeches, no 'what shall we hum now'. Everything happens like clockwork. So the appointed child or adult approaches the apple candle person and is given an apple. She walks the path, slowly. She approaches the candle in the center and lights her candle. The large center candle represents the light of Jesus, and you are re-welcoming Him into your life, or asking Him into your life for the very first time as you light your smaller candle. (As you light your candle, you can also think of the true meaning of the coming Christmas season, and the gift of Jesus, or be praying for yourself, someone special to you, or someone in need of prayer... or giving prayers of thanks.) She/He then turns back and finds a good place to put her/his candle amongst the greenery. Every person gets to come up - if a child is too shy to come up on her own, then it's fine for an adult or teen to accompany her.

Once everyone has finished, sit and admire the lit candles. The room should only be lit by the candles. Continue to hum quietly. The leader, at the right moment, quietly opens the door for families to quietly - in silence or still humming - to file out. The hallway, all the way to the exit will be lowly lit to not spoil the mood. Everyone remains silent or humming as they get their coats on and go home. There should be no talking or running about - let the image of the candle lit room work on your hearts as you go home.

This service can be done outside - in a wooded grove is really wonderful - seeing a lit pathway amongst the trees is magical. And nature will be happy to help you create the right mood if you let it. We are considering this as an option, but will probably utilize the school gym instead.

A few things to consider: make sure all the children have long hair pulled back and no dresses or skirts!! You don't want to start a fire! Adults should fully discuss with their children well in advance the meaning of this event & exactly what will be happening at it so they understand the service & why their very best behavior will be required of them.

We hope you, your family, and friends will enjoy this very special and reverential event as you prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Weekend with Mr. Moll

The last weekend of September we were blessed with a special visit from our dear friend Lawrence Moll from Fargo, ND. We had only seen him once since moving, briefly at church one weekend we were back in town; therefore it was wonderful to be able to catch up with him.

Arriving early Friday afternoon, Mr. Moll spent no time sitting about - he was immediately off with the kids touring the house and yard, then practicing a song on the guitar with Elliot to welcome Mike home with, followed by some target practice with the BB gun in the back yard! Then it was time to get ready for the Sabbath, which we welcomed in with a supper of soup, bread and song. (Mr. Moll was thoughtful enough to bring us several varieties of bread from Great Harvest bakery which everyone loved. We sooo miss that place!)

Sabbath morning we were all off to church where Lawrence was kind enough to share his musical talents with our church during the service. Many who were there shared with us how much they enjoyed his song. After a lovely Sabbath afternoon, we closed the Sabbath with prayer and song once more. The kids played piano or guitar while we all sang. It was such a blessing to share that time together.

That evening Mike & Lawrence had fun with a rousing game of cribbage, then I joined them in watching my favorite version of Pride & Prejudice (the 5 hour long one I blogged about this spring). Anyway, it seems Mr. Moll had read that blog entry, and his curiosity lead him to explore the film on his own - turns out I think he loves it more than me! So of course, we had to introduce it to Mike who had yet to watch it!!!

The next morning we were up early to head off to a pancake breakfast at the church. Since it was a fundraiser for the Pathfinder group, Christopher & Elliot had to make pancakes, collect money, etc. Turns out they were the only Pathfinders who showed up to work that day, so they were kept quite busy. The breakfast was a success, and Lawrence was also able to see some other friends who had moved from the Fargo-Moorhead area as well who were in town, and had arrived at the breakfast.

Last agenda item before heading home was a tour of Brainerd to see the college, the camp the church owns (located in a beautiful forest area), and see the Mississippi River up close.

It was sad to see Mr. Moll leave that day since we had such a wonderful time with him - the house was filled with music during his stay, as well as good conversation. He was so considerate of & encouraging towards the kids; giving them so much of his time - which they very much enjoyed. He spoiled us all a bit too much with parting gifts though, but everyone of them is greatly appreciated since they remind us of him frequently. We are hoping he returns for another visit soon... until then we'll just keep thinking about that hearty laugh accompanied by the twinkle in his eye whenever Ruby said, "wwwightning and funder"!

Plus each day we are reminded of him by little Ruby who strolls about the house singing what she calls "Mr. Moll's song"... Heaven Came Down. It always makes me smile.

Martin Luther King - His Immortal Vietnam Speech Applies Again Today

The children and I have currently been studying the Vietnam War in preparation to go see the Vietnam Moving Wall Memorial which is in MN this week. We came across this speech and were very moved by it. The echo of Dr. King's wise words should be listened to in our country today.

Watch it - it's only 2 1/2 minutes long - and is incredibly well articulated.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

October Camping In Itasca State Park

The first weekend of October our church had it's yearly campout at Itasca State Park. As always it was loaded with fun. The weather was cool, but the bonfires kept us all warm (as well as the space heater someone lent us for our tent - saved MY life!). We enjoyed the fellowship with our church family the entire weekend and the park was stunning with color. The BIG event for our family and a few others was a 10 mile bike ride through the park in the leaves to admire the fall colors. We biked to the Mississippi Headwaters and crossed the stones and bridges from one side to the other before heading back to camp.

I decided to attempt the bike ride, a somewhat bold leap on my part since I had not ridden a bike in 2 years (didn't own one) and more importantly, I've done nothing that challenging for my knee since my surgery and have not been on any regular exercise program. Throw in that the ride back to the camp was extremely hilly, with one huge doozy at the end that nearly everybody said they get off and walk their bikes up... hmmmm... I liked the challenge, so I decided to give it my best shot. To my utter delight, I was able to complete the ride without having to walk my bike - even up that incredibly nasty hill (the kind when you think you're actually standing still and not really moving at all). I was so pumped that I did it and my knee was okay! YES! I'm back baby! Well, getting there anyway, it still causes me problems with certain things - cannot take on volleyball yet!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Giant Waterbug Video

Here's your chance to see what our little buddy is like. Maybe more info than you really cared to know?

Gabriella's New "Pet" Project - Giant Water Bug

In the Sabbath School class I teach at church we always include time to learn about nature and all of God's creatures, therefore I encourage the kids to bring items from home to talk about and show to the class.

Well over a month ago one of my favorite students, sweet, quiet 3 year old little Millie brought the nastiest bug I had ever saw. It had been discovered in their garage that very morning and her mom bravely captured it. No one was sure what it was, but one adult thought it was a harmless tree cockroach. It looked familiar to me though, but couldn't place it, other than it looking very cockroach like.

Since we had studied insects for a good portion of the year and recently concluded we decided to bring it home to examine more closely upon it's death - but it never died! To make a long story short we still have the beast and discovered he is a Giant Water Bug, or "Toe Biter" which is quite a nasty biting creature that will eat everything from insects and small fish to small animals that it can tackle. Gabriella (my budding entomologist) has enjoyed feeding it grasshoppers and goldfish, and the kids all are amazed to watch it kill and eat it's prey. I on the other hand cannot stomach it.

Turns out this guy can live up to 2 years! Not sure if we can go that long or not - some family members have expressed fear of being in a room alone with it at night. (Friends of ours beg us not to set it free once we tire of him, but to destroy him in an effort to protect the children and small pets in the area in case he should fly off with one.) We do have to be careful with him since he can deliver a very, very nasty bite.
Our little buddy is currently in a small, portable aquarium with a tight lid (since he can fly as well as swim). He sits in a place of honor in our main living room area to be noticed by all throughtout the day - we did move him out of the kitchen area, don't worry! Gabriella insists he needs a home upgrade though - I personally think his petite tank with a purple lid and pink gravel is hilarious since he is so absolutely UGLY swimming about in his girly paradise... but oh well. She wants to try to give him snails next.... friends or food - we'll find out...ewwww.

MJ Leaves for His New Home

Mid August we had another happy ending, but a sad day...

MJ was picked up at our home by a lovely case worker who was to drive him to his new home with a couple that plans to adopt him. This is an ideal setup for MJ because they are a couple with adult children and really want to raise another child. Last report I got.. he was being horribly spoiled, in my opinion he needs a dose of that for awhile. We witnessed yet again God's hand at work with MJ's placement... as it turns out this couple is in the same small community as my cousin who is adopting MJ's brother & sister - they see each other very regularly. We are all so thrilled for them!

Ruby had some difficulty after MJ left though, she still misses he and Fawn often since they were her best buddies and play pals. I do not think I'll ever forget watching MJ drive away from the house in the back of the car looking out the back window and Ruby calling, "MJ, MJ, MMMMMMJJJJAAAAYYYYYYY!" It made me so sad for her.

At first life was strangely quiet here and seemed too still. The kids needed some time to adjust to the change in the house, but now all are doing fine and we are back in the swing of how life was before when it was just us. I feel such a new awareness of my children and feel so blessed to be able to completely focus on them again. In some ways I feel like I'm getting to know them again since the past year was so, so full and my time alone with any one of them so very little.

Despite this, I would not change what we did for the world. I can truly say that I felt God work through me, and my family to help three kids find a better life and experience love. I don't know if I can say I have ever been more proud to be a part of something; something so much bigger than I will ever really know or understand. I am so thankful to God for all of it.

August Weddings

Singing at the wedding - nerves of steel!

The girls with their gifts given to them for singing

Me with my group of best friends from high school
(I have no clue why my mouth is open...)

In August we had two more weddings to attend. The first was our good friend Connie who was the teacher at the private Christian school in Detroit Lakes, MN where the kids attended the program for homeschoolers each week when we lived in Moorhead. All of us grew quite fond of Connie and miss her greatly. She requested that Gabriella and Ruby sing His Banner Over Me is Love during the ceremony, so they did. I was apparently the only one nervous because neither of the girls suffered any stage fright whatsoever. It was a beautiful wedding in Connie's parent's home.

The next wedding this month was that of Debbie, my best friend in high school and college roommate. It was such fun to see so many of my school friends again and do some catching up. I even got to see some that could not attend our school reunion last summer which was such a great experience.

Sadly, we were invited to a couple of other weddings in August, but could not get them all in the schedule, or they were too far to travel to.

I'd say that August is a fabulous month to get married, although maybe I am biased since Mike & I celebrated our 15th anniversary on August 14th!

Mike & Sue Vacation in Maine

Standing on the deck outside our room

All dressed up for the wedding!

Sue, David, Mel & Mike

Mike, Carlos, Jill & Sue

In June, after taking the kids to Family campmeeting for our usual summer vacation, Mike and I left for Maine to go to our close friend David's wedding. This was the first time Mike and I had been anywhere alone for longer than a day since Christopher was born - we were there for 4 days! (Only exception being our 2 day homeschool conference this past April.)

We had a grand time at the wedding which was absolutely amazing and beautiful - every bit of it. Mike & I were in the wedding party so we got to do lots of fun jobs to help out. Mike's favorite was being the DJ after the really awesome women's group finished playing at the reception. Many said that Mike was the most dedicated, fun DJ they had ever witnessed - AND he was voted Best Dancer by many of the guests! It was a great group of people to hang out with which made the wedding extra enjoyable - no crazy 20 somethings going crazy and wild - you know what I mean?
After the wedding festivities, we went to do some sight seeing in the Bar Harbor area - all breath taking - then off for a short visit to see our friends Jill and Carlos before they moved to Chile (yes, the one in South America). Jill was the midwife for our 4 children's births and a dear friend - so we HAD to see her before she left the country!
I thought I would miss my kids more than I did - what exactly does that mean? Hmmmmm? We had a fabulous time!

Sushi Candy Birthday

Watch Mike's B-Day Video

Mike's Birthday July 29th

Yes, yet another birthday (I'm off duty now until my own in December-which doesn't count, so I guess February). Anyway... Mike had a birthday, we're so glad... let us see how many he has had... or not? Note there are no candles anywhere, neither do you see a cupcake (gasp)! The kids and I decided to deviate from the cupcakes for Dad when we came across the idea to make cakes that look like sushi - since it is his #1 favorite food. We just could not resist. I threw in the trifle dessert for the rest of us to enjoy, which we did very much! It is my friend Beverly's recipe and I haven't made it in a long while - it was amazing of course (thanks Bev!).
We gifted Mike some books that he was wanting - what else would you expect??

July Fun on the Road

Kids and Grandpa Mark at his river cabin in SD

Christopher & Mike displaying Christopher's solo catch

Having fun on the slip n' slide after a long day in the fishing boat

Kids bathing Pepper with Alyssa's help with a shower head looking device

Shereen persuading Hank to perform for us

Boys having fun cutting Matthew's hair

In July we all headed to Whitlock, SD to do some fishing with Grandpa Mark at his river cabin on the Missouri River. Great fun was had by all the gang, including MJ who was missing his siblings. Fish were caught, excitement was had on the slip n' slide, and just hanging out on the deck. We got to see Grandma Shirley while we were there too which was an added treat!

On the long drive home (nearly 9 hours) we stopped near Valley City, ND and spent the night at our very close friends' - the Meyer family. All sorts of craziness was had there including bathing the dogs multiple times after they went rolling about on dead critter remains, cutting Matthew's hair (he's the big cool 17 year old, so this was especially hilarious), horse rides, the performance of Hank the cow dog singing Happy Birthday and saying "I Love You", the moms (ah, yea that be Shereen & I) jammin out and disco dancing to the Bee Gees while making blueberry muffins in the kitchen (while the husbands & kids pretend not to notice), kittens living under the kitchen sink... you name it. My kids never wanted to leave - MJ wanted to move in under the sink with the cats I think!

At last we arrived home the next day, tired, tan, and toast!

Fawn & Justin Head to Their New Home

Mike & I with my parents, sisters, brother, and all the kids

My sister Becky with our parents and her children, Justin, Fawn & MJ

July 5th marked a day that was an answer to prayer and filled with great joy, but also one that carried some sadness; it was the day Justin and Fawn left our family to begin life with a new one in which they are being adopted.

We had a family reunion that day at my Aunt's home and nearly everyone was there from my father's side of the family, more miraculously was that all of my siblings were present together as well as my parents for the first time in many years. It was such a wonderful time to be all together again after so many trials and problems over the years. My sister Becky was able to spend time with her kids before they went to their new home.

My cousin Wayne, his wife Jodi, and their son Thomas are an answer to prayer - they decided to add Justin and Fawn to their family and are in the process of adopting them. Despite being so incredibly happy for them, I could not help but feel somewhat sad when we drove away at the end of the day. They had been a part of our family for so long and I had fought the fight for them for what seemed like forever. God had it all worked out all along. I know they will be so loved in their new home.

MJ's 8th B-Day June 2nd

MJ's birthday on June 2nd followed Christopher's. We had fun as a family and did some special things MJ requested, including a playdate with friends.

MJ received some cool water toys for the hot summer days ahead, some clothes, and other small gifts.

His meal selection was one of our family fav's... the healthy(ier) vegan version of the Taco John's Super Potato Ole (think tator tots piled high with taco salad fixins like refried beans, avocado, onions, tomatoes, peppers, sour cream, nacho cheese sauce - yes vegan nacho cheese sauce... etc)
Mj's Birthday cupcake of choice was Pumpkin Chocolate Chip. They were a BIG hit!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Christopher's 12th B-Day on June 1st

Our baby boy turned 12 years old on June 1st and it was an odd feeling for me to say the least. He seems to be changing weekly before our very eyes. He has shot up in height to where he is just a mere couple of inches shorter than me, and the most crazy thing is that his voice has changed. I do not even recognize him when he speaks unless I actually see him talking!

We enjoyed Christopher's birthday together as a family and for his special event he chose to see the movie Prince Caspian with his parents and brother Elliot. We are all C.S. Lewis fans and have read the Chronicles of Narnia series, so we were eager to watch the film adaptation which was enjoyable (yet not completely true to the book, no surprise hmm?).

Christopher received gifts of money from grandparents, audio books, 2 more classic Hardy Boys books for his collection and a set of books called The Kingdom Series, that he had a desire to read (A Riveting Medieval Parallel to the Bible).
Last but not least... Christopher's birthday cupcake of choice? Apple Cider Cupcakes... mmmmmm! His birthday meal selection was vegan crepes (made by Dad)!