Sunday, December 20, 2009

{ Nutcracker and Sweets }

Mike's sweet mother wanted to take Amaryah (Mike's sister) and I to see the Nutcracker Ballet this year. Tickets are pricey, we three are all busy girlies and the pieces weren't quite falling into place. Until Amaryah's boyfriend (who conveniently works in wholesale ticketing) gave us tickets to the ballet. And what tickets they were: Center section, four rows from the stage!

I can't begin to describe the giddiness of being so close to the orchestra pit; the beautiful costumes; Maurice Sendak's amazing sets; so many talented dancers! I especially loved the smallest ballerinas (what do you call a male ballet dancer, anyway? A ballerino?), the 6-9 year olds who played mice and soldiers and nutcrackers. So cute. The music was many familiar movements in the completely new-and-dazzling setting of a live ballet performance. I realized that I really, really want a piano. I miss playing.

What made me chuckle, though, was the conductor. He was probably in his 30's-40's. Apparently he has a very stubborn cowlick on the back of his head...because there was an alfalfa sprout of hair sticking straight up for the entire evening. I think part of why this makes me grin is the sheer fact that we were close enough to see the conductor's hair!
Afterward we went to The Cheesecake Factory for appetizers, desserts, and drinks. Mandy (mom-in-law) and I had never been there, and it was amazing!!! I've been hungry for cream cheese crab wontons, vietnamese shrimp spring rolls, fried zucchini, and all the mysterious dipping sauces ever since.

It was such a fun, girly evening! Dressing up, going to a performance, admiring all the other dressed-up people, perhaps the start of a new tradition--it was delightful!

Tonight Mister and I are making oreo truffles (courtesy of Jessica) and my Grandma Violet's soda cracker candy, listening to Christmas carols, enjoying our Christmas lights, and "working" right next to each other on our respective laptops. :-) It's a decidedly satisfying and relaxing way to spend the Monday of Christmas week.

I'll try to post again before Christmas, but sometimes things Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2009

{ Shhh, don't tell! }

Some days, I would really like to have a television.

Like today.

Cozying up with "Dirty Jobs" or "What Not To Wear" or "The Deadliest Catch" sounds like a swell way to spend a winter evening, doesn't it?

{ Joys }

Scraps of pink clouds greeted me on Friday morning, tossed across a pale blue canvas of sky. I caught my breath; the December air was warm and clear, the sun an enormous golden sphere near the skyline. Blue sky. A sunrise. Both so very rare in the winter. No rain. No wet, cold darkness to trudge through. Thank you, Lord.

Purple mountain majesties framed the eastern horizon as I drove to work. Breathtaking.

A huge rainbow mysteriously stayed directly ahead of me for my entire drive to work. Wide ribbons of translucent color hung taut in a perfect arc, astonishing in its height. Hope. I always think of God's twin promises of hope and of mercy from His wrath against sin when I see a rainbow. But with a dry night and a sunny morning, a rainbow? In midwinter? It's like a Christmas present from Jesus!

(By the time I took this photo, the rainbow was fading in the morning sunlight.)

Arriving at work, sadly realizing I forgot to bring in fudge, thinking of how neglected my sweet tooth will feel all day--and finding a Tupperware of fudge I'd brought in earlier this week and forgotten! Bliss.

Doing an echocardiogram in the critical care unit, I hear singing voices approaching. Ah, today is caroling! For three hours a group of hospital employees traverse the entire hospital singing Christmas carols. My patient starts singing along. I finish my echo to the beautiful harmonies of "Away in a Manger" and "Silent Night." One of the kidney doctors joins for the last song, his heavy European accent mingling with the voices of occupational therapists, distribution techs, administrative staff. I think this was probably the best medicine my patient received all day, and of how blessed I am to be able to have carolers travel through my workplace.

Mid-day, I remember how, on Thursday night during our Advent reading, we read the passage in Philippians telling us to be anxious about nothing, and each of us shared what we are anxious about. Then we prayed. I prayed that God would just surround us with assurance of His love. Perfect love casts out fear, and anxiety is rooted in fear. God's love is the only perfect love; so if we are resting in His love, He takes our anxiety from us. We leave it at the foot of the Cross, and take up instead His yoke--letting ourselves be overwhelmed with His love instead of anxiety. And I realize all these are love notes from a God who loves us so much, He sent His only Son into the world to pay the penalty for sin on our behalf.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

{ Merry and Bright }

Christmas makes our home seem cozy and so much more home-like. Here are some of the Christmasy vistas I'm enjoying from the comfort of our living/dining/kitchen space.Our $25 Target Christmas tree in all its splendor! It sure doesn't look like it's six feet tall, does it? Personally, I think it's the perfect size for us. I absolutely fell in love with KT's idea for using brown paper and doilies to wrap packages. I put my Ikea-size roll of brown wrapping paper to good use last night and wrapped ALL our gifts--then the last two I ordered came in the mail today! Funny how that happens. You can kind of see the packages at the bottom of the tree...if you squint really hard.The first ornament we bought together: a sea turtle in shimmery shades of green and blue. I am not a reptile person, and I think this ornament is gorgeous! We bought it at the Polynesian Cultural Center while we were on Oahu for our honeymoon. The colors are so luminous, and it reminds me of the "turtle beach" Mike and I visited a few times (he even snorkeled with a bunch of turtles once!).We bought this ornament a couple of weeks ago. It was one of the activities in the Advent tin. Mike's Washington State Ferry ornament. I smile inside every time I see this...I love ferry rides, and he (being a very romantic sort of man) took me on a ferry ride on our first date (and on multiple dates to follow). It was the sort of perfectly clear, unbelievably sunny, unseasonably warm March day that just doesn't happen in our neck of the woods...unless God knows you're going on your last first date and He wants to make it extra-memorable.
All my childhood ornaments are at my family's house in Idaho--thank goodness for all of Mike's ornaments and a small tree! I bought a box of twelve itty bitty glass ornaments, all maybe 1 1/2 inches tall. I think their smallness and tiny detailes make them even more dear. This one reminds me of Retha, the teddy bear I got the Christmas I was one year old. I still love her!Our wall of cards is still rather sparse, though we got three more today--but what I love about this space is the vibrant, bright-red-sequined "Joy"! It makes me want to get all swoopy and dramatic and just let loose and be joyful! Can I get an Amen?! Joy! Jesus is HERE!
Mike's Nutcracker on our mantle
Christmastime is here!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

{ The Weight of Glory }

The sunshine today brought joy to my soul. The gentlest of pale peach and mauve tinting the Olympic mountain range as I took the "long" (a.k.a. scenic) route home from work. The still, sunlit air, so unusual for us in December; even the pre-sunset colors reflected in the water of the Sound seem calm, peaceful, at rest. Looking at the jagged mountaintops, breathtaking in the pastels of a bright winter afternoon, I am overwhelmed by the quiet splendor of creation. God's handiwork does not seek its own glory because it cannot; humbly and magnificently, creation stands as a silent witness to the glory of the One Who created it. I feel a deep longing to be part of the unspeakable beauty of this afternoon. I long to be one with the mountains, the sea, the very air which by its existence magnifies and exalts God Almighty.

Those who do not know Jesus--what do they do with this staggering sensation of greatness which natural beauty can thrust upon them? When you do not know that it points toward One who is even greater and more beautiful than we can comprehend? I wonder if this soul-deep yearning to be a part of the inexpressible beauty one finds in nature is what drives people to climb mountains, sail oceans, carve out an existence in isolated places. A melody floats into my subconscious. I have been humming the tune for a while before I realize how perfectly the words describe this moment--words so familiar and comforting, like the spiritual equivalent of a favorite blanket worn threadbare and silky smooth from love:

A bus station, in the steam from the rain
In this line of pale strangers, should I go or stay?
The whole field of vision, fades beneath me now
And the houses spread for a million miles,
In this gray town
And the weight of glory, if you held it in your hand
It would pass right through you, so now's your chance
Would you fall to pieces
Would you fall to pieces
Would you fall to pieces
In the high countries?
We are just pilgrims of the great divorce
I am witness to the light and I am captive to my own remorse
And the weight of glory, if you held it in your hand
It would pass right through you, so now's your chance
Would you fall to pieces
Would you fall to pieces
Would you fall to pieces
In the high countries?
You drink the cup to the bottom, but it burns in your hands
The cup was poured out on the Maker instead
Out on the green plains, I am but a ghost
Bound up with all that I call "mine" still the light grows
Would you fall to pieces
Would you fall to pieces
Would you fall to pieces
In the high countries?
- "The High Countries" by Caedmon's Call

The weight of glory. That is what I see in the mountains, that is what I ache for when I see sun on the water: God's incomparable glory, reflected in what He has made.

In the paradox of grace, when I fall on Christ the cornerstone and let Him break me, I too reflect His glory. I can fall to pieces in the high countries of God's endless love and grace, and in a small way, I become part of the weight of His glory in this world.

Totally unrelated side note: For those of you who are looking for fresh Christmas music this season, check out Christmas Spirit by Los Lonely Boys. Their take on a mix of Christian and secular Christmas songs is fun, refreshing, and full of that blues/rock/southern-style country we all love. (If you don't love it, you should!)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

{ Advent }

I'm so excited to start creating new Christmas traditions with Mr. Mike!!

This is our first Christmas as Mr. & Mrs., and I really wanted us to do Advent. My family has used a variety of calendars, devotionals, etc. to celebrate Advent, and I think it's a wonderful way to keep the focus of your holiday activities on Jesus. In spite of this, I didn't have a whole lot of knowledge about the specifics of Advent traditions....which is how we ended up with four white candles and one red, instead of three purple, one rose, and one white. I don't mind though--I like the red + white look better anyway!

I love sitting in front of the fireplace mantle with my husband and reading Scripture together with the flicker of candlelight before us.

I also love this Advent muffin tin! I found this idea on Jessica's blog two years ago and tucked it away as a delightful idea for when I'm married. It's so simple: A 24-count mini muffin tin, adhesive magnets to attach your beautiful handmade tags to the tin, and in each cup a sweet little suggestion to help make the season merry + bright. The suggestions aren't very involved, since the last thing I wanted to do was make it another task we felt obligated to complete--just fun, easy ways to focus on enjoying the Christmas season. I had so much fun browsing through my favorite scrapbook store for sweet Christmas-y papers and embellishments! I won't tell you each day's suggestion, since Husband reads this, but here's what we've done so far:

December 1 ~ Put up Christmas lights! (we didn't actually do that till Saturday)

December 2 ~ Enjoy peppermint bark in your lunch today

December 3 ~ Find mistletoe....XOXO

December 4 ~ Go to Wight's Nursery to admire the lights + buy an ornament for our first Christmas as Mr. + Mrs.

December 5 ~ Find a recipe for spiked eggnog, then make it

December 6 ~ Let the Christmas shopping begin!

I hope your Christmas season is proving full of wonder and joy!

{ What the?!? }

I kid you not. High-energy bird suet.
Cuz we all want super hyper birdies hanging around our bird feeders, nervously devouring the avian version of crack.
Coming soon to a nursery near you!

Friday, December 4, 2009

{ Letting go of Perfect }

Crucifix on the wall of a patient room in the hospital where I work

I am always amazed when God meets me exactly where I am. When He talks the broken pieces of today and uses them to make something beautiful. When He sometimes breaks what I think is whole (or ought to be whole) and creates a new pattern. When He stops me in my tracks and gently turns me back to Him. It doesn't always seem gentle, but given the alternative of continuing hard-heartedly away from Him, even the severest of His mercies is still that: Mercy.

To say I'm a perfectionist is an understatement. To say that I physically don't handle stress well is also an understatement. I am slowly wrapping my head around the fact that "perfect" is an idol I choose to worship, instead of Jesus. "Slowly" because I am stubborn and set in my ways. The fact that I am cognizant of this thwarted worship in my life at all is purely God's grace--God's grace in the form of a body that can't take it any more. His severe mercy that brings me to my knees, which is exactly where I ought to be: worshiping Jesus and not "perfect."

A couple of days ago I was doing an echocardiogram on a patient, as is my wont Monday through Friday. I was on call, still working when I wanted to be home making dinner. Because, in my "perfect" world, that is what I should have been doing, along with running several errands between work and dinner.

God interrupted my echo, bursting the focused-and-frustrated bubble I construct when my plans go awry. Somewhere in the parasternal short axis views, a scene came into my mind out of nowhere. I saw myself as a child, three years old maybe, clutching something like a snowglobe in both hands. Within the globe were images of my life now: Me at work, with Mike, our home and families. I don't know how to describe the next part. I didn't see God, but I knew that He was there and His goal was to pry my fingers off the globe. He wanted me to give my life, contained in that globe, to Him. He wanted to loosen my iron grip on my life, but I was deathly intent on keeping it in my hands, where I could maintain its safety and well-being.

Tears were suddenly smarting in my eyes. I'm sorry, Lord! my soul whispered. An abrupt rush of wonder and comprehension. I've turned this Christmas season into a rigid plan marching toward one goal: Perfection. Not Jesus. I've put so much value on getting everything "right" (which we all know means nothing less than utter flawlessness when I'm talking) that my actual reality is complete misery. Migraines. Acid reflux that leaves me flat on my back for hours because of the accompanying nausea. Self-induced busyness and anxiety. All sorts of delightful plans that are simply impossible--at least on the level I envision--because I work 40+ hours a week and it takes a lot of oomph to try to be Martha Stewart, Version II.

I'm letting go of the control I so dearly love. I'm loosening my grip because, in God's providence, I don't have much of a choice. I can't go on in my little hamster wheel. I'm not going to try to bake cookies for all 11 of our nearest condo neighbors and have them nicely decorated and ready to hand out by next weekend. I'm not going to throw a Christmas/housewarming party. I'm not going to try to read every single Advent devotional I've found on the internet. I'm not going to expect myself to be able to go full-throttle every single day between now and December 25. I'm going to let go of the perfect Christmas season I constructed in my head and enjoy the season God has chosen to give me, even though it's not shaping up to look like the one I'd planned.

The beauty is that in embracing the reality of Today, I don't miss the things that don't happen (or don't happen like I planned). As Jesus directs my path, I find unexpected gifts. Peace. Enjoying the moment. Laughter with my husband. A day of Christmas decorating that went in a direction I never dreamed of, but was oh-so-good in the end. The shattered pieces of my plans have been swept out in the trash...but the wholeness, beauty, and joy He gives in exchange are sweeter than anything I can imagine.