Merry Christmas, from us.

merry christmas from usThe knitted stockings have been hanging for a month. The tree twinkles with colorful lights, topped with a star so simple, discretely hiding a few wrapped presents begging to be opened.

home made stockingsdo not open until christmas

The morning has arrived and it is perfect. By many standards, one may snicker at my calling this perfection: the windows drip with condensation, inviting mold to make its home in ours; the tree leans a little to its right, inviting your head to tilt as you gaze upon it; the twinkling lights don't match - there is a literal red strip in the middle as we ran out of the multi-colored; crumbs pile high in the corners of the kitchen, despite my husband's faithful sweeping; and the place our hearts call home is filled with chilled air. But I love it and it is perfect and my heart is warm. I am with my husband, he with me, together we sit cozied up on our love seat, under grandma's quilt. Grandma makes the coziest quilts.

simple star tree topper brown wrapping

As we wipe sleep from our eyes, our hearts are happy, warmed, because: Emmanuel. He is with us. God himself - the Creator of all things, the universe, you and me - He squeezed Himself into the body of a baby. The most helpless and needy form of humanity: a baby. It is our third year as newlyweds, our third year reading the story of Jesus together on December 25th. Though most of America's today is filled with chaos, presents, and more more more...I hope you'll spend a few minutes to read this entire story - the story about Jesus, His birth.

I cannot imagine the awe, the reverence, the fear Mary must have experienced when the angel said these words to her:

"'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What's more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God!'

And Mary responded, 'I am the Lords servant. May everything you have said about me come true.'"

Luke 1:35-38

For nothing is impossible with God. The entire story of His birth recorded in the book of Luke is mysterious, bringing stinging tears to these joyful eyes. This deep feeling heart can only imagine the heavy presence of glory that was revealed that night; and as I imagine, my heart burns with passion and I am forced to raise these hands and this heart in awe and honor and acknowledging that He is greater and He is with me and He is for me. For you, with you, rooting you on. Yes, violence and war still rage on...but in this brokenness we have access to hope, joy, freedom. Emmanuel.

Jesus. I fall madly in love with You as I read the words You spoke, the heart You shared, the way You cared and drew people to your Father. I cannot help but love You more, because of the way You love me. I cannot help but want to be near You, pulled in close to Your chest where I can lay my head to rest, so fully, so deeply, so real-ly. You are with me. You are for me. You inspire me.

We hope that you find His heart for you - we pray that you experience His deep and very real, life changing love. What a powerful day today reminds us of, the birth of our Savior.

Merry Christmas.

family photo, couple kissing under the misteltoe

I'm choosing joy. Will you?

I feel the joy again. Once again, it is penetrating the very seams of my being, pulsating through my veins, coursing through my arteries. It had escaped me; or maybe I had left it, the moment I gave in to ingratitude. Too often, my perpetual mistake of allowing ingratitude to pierce through my complaining thoughts of dark, my permission to let unrighteous anger sizzle beneath my skin, my choice - and it is a choice - to crush joy with bitterness...I neglected to see how I was choosing to follow the "Prince of Darkness". In choosing a simmering bitterness or authorizing someone's jab to offend me with stabbing aches, my soul was blaspheming in choosing the angry way of Lucifer because I subconsciously think it is more effective - why else choose ingratitude & impatience? Why else allow such deep resentment to dwell within my soul, to act out in quick thwarts? Is it because I think complaining and resentment will bring me the full life I want? Why else get angry? Lies. I do not want that. That is not a life full.

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My swollen impaired eyelids are slowly being torn open to see through this mess. To see without being blinded - or maybe I hope to be blinded by the glory of God, so that is all that I see?

The joy has seeped back into and through my pores, cleansing the filth that rampaged through, all too discretely. It has been a very conscious choice, a working effort and an endless discipline of daily work. But isn't that how the Israelites were fed? Day by day the manna poured...day by day, I choose to pick up the manna God provides. Gifts. Joy.

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This journal I started. This dare I read in a book. This list of One Thousand Gifts. It is changing my life and ushering joy into my soul. Erasmus said, "A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit." I am striving to replace the habit of ingratitude with the beautiful habit of gratitude, which escorts joy. It wasn't until I purchased a journal specifically for this task, this dare, this challenge, this invitation, and began the catalog of One Thousand Gifts...it wasn't until I named the gifts that the joy flushed my heart and set my soul ablaze.

"In naming that which is right before me, {as gift}, that which I would otherwise miss, the invisible becomes visible. To name a thing is to manifest the meaning and value God gave it." -Voskamp

"To name is to solve mystery." Voskamp expands on this through her book One Thousand Gifts; but please let me sum it up. To name is to bring fulfillment. To name is to live fully. To name is to recognize the gifts surrounding me, drowning me in grace. To name is to accept the gifts God has given, thus accepting and diagnosing Gods love for me. To name is to be entered into the throne room of grace, to be filled with joy and awe and wonder...and reverence. To name. Even in the hard thanks, in the darkest of days when all seems hopeless and you ache to be in Heaven...to name.

As I record the gifts yesterday and today, my heart burns with joy, time slows, and I absorb the moment. Hurry no longer seems appealing. My eyes are being remade, my hearts lens is transforming. And it's beautiful. I want it for you, too. This is why I share. I invite, I challenge, I dare, I invite you - because it is truly an invitation to blessing, wholeness, life as full - to start recording the good gifts only a good God graces you with.

Imperfect but transforming, attempting to give thanks in all circumstances:

Natalie

133. husband serving coffee with cream, dancing.

137. tomatoes, juicy and red, shining bright around the ends.

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Thank you, Ann Voskamp, for truly & deeply inspiring me.

Read Choosing To Live Fully

Choosing to live fully: Happy New Year

Good morning January 1, 2014! I woke up with the cold hanging onto my body with the grip of a dying man, fearing the unknown. I had forgotten it was January 1, until I opened my beautiful bible to Ezekiel 36:26:

"A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will remove from you the heart of stone, giving you a heart of flesh."

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My heart has been slowly turning to stone. Last year kicked me in the butt and kind of wore me out. There was much to celebrate and enjoy, which we did. But the stabbing pains led me to slowly shut off my heart to others, a mode we call self-protection. I struggled to confuse my calling with my identity which brought me straight into battle with giving into ingratitude. Ingratitude. Is that not the catalyst of so many of my sins in life?

As I processed what I had read this morning in Ezekiel, I asked what a raw, gnawing, beating heart of flesh would look like. What would it look like for the year of 2014, to have a heart pumping with 3,000 stallions?

Our fall was, has always been, and will always be, that we aren't satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other. Standing before that tree, laden with fruit withheld, we listen to Evil's murmur, 'In the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened...' (Genesis 3:5). But in the beginning, our eyes were already open. Our sight was perfect. Our vision let us see a world spilling with goodness. Our eyes fell on nothing but the glory of God. We saw God as He truly is: good. But we were lured by the deception that there was more to a full life, there was more to see. And true, there was more to see: the ugliness we hadn't beheld, the sinfulness we hadn't witnessed, the loss we hadn't known.

-Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

A heart of flesh. Jesus' heart was "flesh." The last night before He went to the cross, He did what? His heart chose to give thanks. What about Jesus standing outside of Lazarus's tomb, and John 11:41 reminds us of His thankful heart, "Father I thank you that you have heard me." And then a dead man rose. Thanksgiving raises the dead, turns a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. An empty, stiff cadaver surging with veins full of blood, arteries flushing with life. Giving thanks.

"How do we live fully so we are fully ready to die?" Asks Ann Voskamp

The only place we need to see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now, through it all.

This year, I choose to give thanks. I choose to purchase that notebook I've been wanting and fill it with one thousand gifts of grace.

Happy day.

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1,000 gifts part two

Read part one of 1,000 gifts here. You know how it's November? And people's Facebook statuses are all about what they're thankful for? I love that; I completely believe that if you're truly giving thanks, your heart changes. It transforms. The way you perceive life is different...it becomes joyful and positive. It brings strength when you feel completely weak: why? Because you're giving God glory, you're recognizing you cannot live this life alone.

This morning I read Psalm 92. After I read it through I went back to verses one and two:

"It is good to give thanks to The Lord...it is good to proclaim Your unfailing love in the morning, your faithfulness in the evening."

As I've stated before, I believe that all gifts are acts of grace from Jesus. I am continuing my quest of making a list of 1,000 gifts that I am deeply grateful for.

7. I am thankful for quiet mornings, rain storm happening outside, a time to sit in silence & soak in the peace of God.

8. I am thankful for the sales at Jo Anne's.

9. I am thankful that I get to welcome a very random (yet not so random) group of people into my home & feed them Thanksgiving dinner.

10. I am thankful for our patio, as well as the garden we planted.

11. I am thankful for medicine and doctors.

12. I am thankful for Allan Peterson's belief in and support of Loren and I. A complete encouragement.

13. I am thankful for true prayer warriors in my life (to name a few: Haley, Kent, Lindsey, Allan, Mike).

14. I am thankful for early morning Psalms.

15. I am thankful for the growth that has happened through having a very broken family.

16. I am thankful for fearless leaders who have sacrificed so much for the sake of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. (to name a few: Mike & Heather, Ben & Bethany, Melissa, Loren, Anthony & Emily, Russel & Emily, soooo manyyyy moreee )

17. I am thankful for the church family I am part of.

18. I am thankful for conversations with Stephanie Bean.

19. I am thankful for a sewing machine.

20. I am thankful for the ability to communicate with my sisters-in-law who live far away.

What are you thankful for? Have you started a list?

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1,000 gifts

If you are like me then you often times find yourself in a rut. A rut of gloom, negativity, failure, pride, irritability, despair or depression. You find yourself relearning life lessons for the 185th time: that gifts are freely given (not deserved); that we are saved by grace & grace alone; that we cannot view ourself as ugly, unworthy, a worm, and displeasing to the One you wish to please. I have found that when I forget these Truths, I am also head-deep in a pit; a rut. The dirt is slipping in over my head, I'm drowning and I see myself as covered in filth. And then, and then Jesus reminds me that life itself, time, the simplest of things like laughter are gifts. Gifts of grace. He is saying, "I love you. You are an imperfect being made perfect by a perfect God. The moment you said yes to Me, I was pleased. And pleased I will forever be."

I 100% believe that all gifts are products of grace. From the smallest gift of morning shadows on a hard wood floor to huge gifts such as a husband who fears The Lord & leads me closer to His feet. I have started a quest, an excursion of recording 1,000 gifts of grace. I was given the idea by a speaker at a women's conference: 1,000 Gifts of Grace.

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So far, I have 6. 1. I am thankful that Loren can work 20 hours less at Trillium each week. There are only two of us to provide for & I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve our church community even more. 2. I am thankful that my mom comes to our church. 3. I am thankful for the church community that has been built through Corvallis Church. We are truly living life together, and I do not want to take this time for granted. 4. I am thankful for foggy, fall, crisp mornings. Something about them brings complete joy. 5. I am thankful for Kent Smith. For so many reasons.

Over time, I will record these gifts that I am ever so grateful for.

Today, in Canada, I thanked God for His word, His written love letters. I was reading in Psalm 78 and verses 21, 22 settled in my soul with some thanksgiving.

"When The Lord heard them, he was furious. The fire of his wrath burned...for they did not believe God or trust Him to care for them."

For they did not believe God, they did not trust Him to care for them. And that made Him furious. I don't know about you, but so often I find myself distrusting, worrying, anxious, not believing Gods written promises. Has he yet to break His word?

6. I am thankful that I have a trustworthy caretaker, life giver, creator, savior, king, and God. A trustworthy and caring friend who comforts and gives strength, boldness, peace. I am thankful for His grace and acceptance.

Will you join me in honestly pursuing gratefulness for the gifts of grace? What are you grateful for?

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