Saturday, December 29, 2012

Peaceful Christmas 2012 - 41 Reasons Why I'm Grateful

Christmas 2012 was hands-down our family's most relaxing and favorite Christmas to date.  Many things contributed to it being a whopping success so I made a list of all the things our family is thankful for this Christmas.
our happy, healthy crew
Ironically there were multiple fiascos that could have derailed Peaceful Christmas 2012.  But with each hurdle, God kicked in our sense of humor, covered our anxiety with peace, and helped us wing it when our preference would have been organized systems.  Here's the list of potential pitfalls that Jesus helped us overcome.  How can you not laugh?

  1. Getting an 8 p.m. call from my Dad and Marcy asking to move our Christmas celebration to 11 a.m. the following day due to a predicted snow storm in the pass they would have to drive.  I had planned to use Christmas Eve to do one last-minute shopping trip, clean my house, wrap presents, and prep food for Christmas dinner.  But Curt and I knew that in the grand scheme of things a clean house was irrelevant if it meant missing out on time with Dad and Marcy.  He took the day off work.  Then we worked as Team Stilp the next 24 hours to pull it all together.
  2. The turkey - that was thawing in the refrigerator in the garage - had a hole in the plastic bag.  Raw turkey juice leaked all over our entire refrigerator that was packed full of fresh produce.  We were forced to rewash all the produce and thoroughly clean out the inside of the refrigerator.
  3. Once we cleaned up the raw turkey fiasco, Curt dressed the bird.  I held the roasting bag open and as Curt put the turkey into the bag, the bottom of the bag split open and the turkey dropped into the sink.  Turkey: 2.  Team Stilp: 0.
  4. Our garbage disposal has never backed up in the four years we've lived in this home.  But on Christmas Eve - just as Dad and Marcy pulled into the driveway - it clogged up and spit dirty water in Curt's face.  Plumber Husband fixed it in no time flat.
  5. We have a soap dispenser that connects underneath our kitchen sink.  The threads are stripped and the soap bottle came detached at some point.  When Curt went to unclog the drain he found 12 ounces of hand soap spilled all over the cupboard.  Sink: 2.  Team Stilp: 0.
  6. I was supposed to make cheese soup for our Christmas Eve dinner with my Mom and Terry.  We made it last minute, really quickly and did something wrong.  It turned out terrible.  But since it was part of the main food course, we all gagged it down.  My brother's and their significant other's were very gracious, but we all knew it was awful.  There's always next year...
  7. On the way to Christmas Eve dinner, the soup (which I put in a crock pot) spilled all over the floor of our car and made a huge mess.  Soup: 2.  Team Stilp: 0.
  8. Christmas morning, I went to grab the orange juice from the refrigerator.  It was sitting in a pool of milk.  Our milk carton had a crack in it and had been slowly leaking milk all over the refrigerator.  Milk: 1.  Team Stilp: 0. 
In spite of all this, we had an incredibly fun and relaxing Christmas.  Here's our family's list of things we are thankful for.

1.  Beautiful weather on Christmas Eve.  It was sunny, crisp and dry.  A welcome change from all the rain and gray.
2.  Watching the kids play four square and kickball in the cul de sac, wearing their new boots and clothes from Grandpa Don and Grandma Marcy.
Christmas Eve Day with Grandpa Don and Grandma Marcy
3.  Five different sets of our awesome neighbors stopping in on Christmas Eve bringing plates of goodies and Christmas cheer.
4.  Dad and Marcy being willing to shift their schedules and expectations around to still have Christmas together even though it required great effort on their part.  We had so much fun together.
5.  I had five or so things left to purchase for Christmas and no time.  I went to Target and prayed on the way that I would be able to find everything on my list.  God answered!  I got everything I needed in record time and even got most of it for 50% off.
6.  Team Stilp showing up.  Curt and I have always enjoyed tackling big projects together.  We both really enjoyed dividing and conquering our huge list and watching it all come together.
Team Stilp

7.  Making apple pie with Curt at 10 p.m.  A first for us, but so fun!
8.  Wrapping presents on Christmas Eve with Curt.  We both abhor present wrapping which is why we entered Christmas Eve with very few gifts wrapped.  We started at 10:30 p.m, took a few deep breaths, and started wrapping.  I signed all my gifts, "from Mom and Dad."  Curt decided to use crazy signing antics:  "Frodo and Yoyo.  Rufus and Tufus.  Monkey See and Monkey Don't (on a monkey pillow pet), King Kong and Ding Dong" and then blamed the elves.
do you think the kids could tell the difference on who wrapped each gift?
9.  Paige's desire to believe Santa is real.  She knows Santa is just a fun story but she still left him a letter by the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.  Christmas is magical to her.
10.  Sprinkling reindeer dust on the front yard with Paige.  She in her red cowgirl boots and new Christmas jammies, gracefully flinging handfuls of oatmeal and glitter into the air to illuminate the yard for the reindeer.  Her delightful giggle and her sweet "This is SOOOO fun Mommy.  Wanna help me?" melted my heart.  I danced around the yard throwing reindeer glitter in the air with my little fairy Christmas angel.
11. The gratitude the kids had this year.  They were so appreciative.  SO excited.  So genuinely thankful.  And SO expressive as they opened gifts.  We loved the shrieks.  Gasps.  Huge eyes.  Tackles.  Hugs.  The immediate trying on of new clothes.  And the expressions of disbelief as Christmas wishes came true.

12.  Paige's funny comments.  Regarding her new red cowgirl boots:  "They are so stylish.  They look like real cowgirl boots with a design.  They're like something Jessie from Toy Story would wear."  And regarding her choice of what clothes to wear on Christmas Day:  "I'm wearing my new sweatshirt and comfy pants.  Doesn't it look like a cute PE outfit?"
Paige Elizabeth - 6 1/2 years

13.  Getting text messages and self-imposed crazy photos from Grant on his new phone.
14.  Grant texting me, "Thank you Mom.  This is the best Christmas ever.  I love you.
15.  Curt (downstairs) texting Grant (upstairs) during quiet time.  "Dude.  It's quiet time.  Stop playing your drums.  People are sleeping."  And then the drumming stopped two seconds later. Oh how times have changed. 
16.  Napping with Paige.  I've been so sentimental since the shootings in Newtown so it was priceless to get two blissful hours on Christmas afternoon cuddled up next to my baby girl.
17. Extravagant love of my husband who surprised me with the camera I've been wanting/saving for/hoping for for years now.  I was fully prepared to finish saving the money, but he rocked my world by getting it ahead of schedule.  
18.  The Word (Jesus) who took on flesh and "moved into our neighborhood" (as one translation of John 1:14 says).  Changing my life.  Offering peace and hope.  In the midst of of pain, suffering and struggle.
19.  Reading the Christmas story from the Bible around the breakfast table and then singing, "Happy Birthday" to Jesus, complete with cha cha cha's.
20.  An entire day with NO AGENDA!  Except to be.  Together.
21.  Watching Curt thrill over helping the kids set up their electronic devices.  Putting new music and play lists together with them and answering all their questions.
22.  Katie's delight and pure joy in a repurposed iPod Touch.  She knew it was Sarah's before it was hers, but it didn't damper her joy.  She was so thrilled to have it.  She kept asking, "Can I put pictures on it? Set my own password? Add my music?  Really?  I can?!?!"
Katie Joy - 10 years

23.  The sweet and thoughtful way Alli and Paige shared all their new baby doll gear.  It would have been tempting to bicker, but they divided it out so thoughtfully and took turns.  A parent's dream!
24.  Alli's generosity in giving her favorite set of twins to Paige so she could adopt a set of "Haitian twin baby dolls."  She has relinquished all rights to her former favorites and Paige has loved being their new mommy.

25.  Paige's THRILLED response over a $7 basket for her bike.  It got the biggest reaction from her which made Curt and I giggle.
26.  Seeing the kids grasp the joy of generosity.  From shopping for a family in need to their excitement to give us the gifts they purchased with their own money.  It was so sweet.
27. Paige playing with her little craft kits all afternoon on Christmas day.  She put together puzzles, made bead crafts with Curt, and colored giant sized Barbie pictures.  It was a piece of heaven for her.
28.   Seeing the girls walking their babies in their new little buggy around the cul de sac.  I love watching them out the window engrossed in make believe and creative play.  When they get too old to do this, I will be so heartbroken.
29.  The photo block Paige made for us in her first grade class.  It was really cool and she clearly worked very hard on it.
30.  Non-prescription glasses times three for kids who have x-ray vision.  I can't stop giggling every time Grant, Alli and Katie wear their very noticeable non-prescription glasses. 
one of these four wears prescription glasses.  the rest have x-ray vision.
31.  Grant requesting "skinny jeans, a beanie, non-prescription glasses, and a man scarf" for Christmas.  He's so Portland.  And way too grown-up looking.  Can we just stop time?
Grant Andrew - 11 1/2 years
32.  NO BICKERING!!!!!  When the kids asked us what we wanted for Christmas we told them, "A day of no bickering."  They delivered!  They were peace-filled, fun and amazing Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and in the days following. They were obedient.  Kind.  Loving.  Grateful. Fun.  Peace-making.  We were so blessed and blown away!
33.  Alli's crazy but fun sense of style.  Her Christmas day outfit was knee high socks, army boots, shorts, penguin hoodie, penguin stocking hat and glasses.  She commented, "Mom.  Get used to seeing this sweatshirt.  I'll be wearing it a lot."
Alyssa Claire - 8 1/2 years
34.  Curt having a job that allows him take the day off on a whim.
35.  A delicious and somewhat healthy Christmas dinner with my Dad and Marcy.
36.  A beautifully dressed table for Christmas Eve dinner.  It looked great in my mind's eye so when it came together in reality (at 50% off!) it was such a treat.

37.  Playing Rumikub with my Mom and Terry.  There was a lot of smack talking and laughter around that table.  (We were grossly negligent in taking pictures, but now I have a real camera.  Sorry Mom and Terry!  Let's get together again soon and we'll get some good shots.)
38.  Christmas Eve night with my Hadlock brothers, their families, and my Mom and Terry.  The only thing that would have made it better would be having my brother Shane and his wife and family there too.  
39.  Dancing around the kitchen with Katie to the new music she got for Christmas.  We had so much fun that Curt and Paige joined us as we twirled and laughed and sang.
40.  Adorable kid thank you notes.

41. An abundance of food.  Shelter.  Health.  Love.  Jesus.

Merry Christmas everyone!  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Home is Wherever I'm With You - Fifteen Years

Today Curt and I celebrate our fifteen year wedding anniversary.  Neither of us are sure how that much time has passed since we exchanged our vows in a church filled with Christmas trees, poinsettias, and our family and friends.  It has been an incredible journey and there is no one I'd rather share life with.  I was shopping for an anniversary gift, stumbled upon this piece of art, and knew I had to get it.
Home is wherever I'm with you

"Home is wherever I'm with you." In the past fifteen years we have called more than a handful of places "home."

We started our marriage by moving into an old duplex in Maplewood, Minnesota.  It was dark and dank with wall-to-wall paneling and green linoleum floors, appliances, and countertops.  The only furniture we owned was the bed we purchased right before we got married.  The rest of our home was sparsely furnished with mismatched hand-me-downs.  But we didn't care.  We were thrilled to finally set up a life together.  In that home, we learned (sometimes the hard way) that marriage requires sacrifice.  Effort.  A sense of humor.  And an overabundance of love.  We bickered over where to squeeze the toothpaste and who takes out the garbage.  We bought our first car together, practiced swing dance in our living room, and hosted Friday night game nights with our college friends.  In Maplewood, our home was our haven where we learned how to be married.

Two years later, we moved to an apartment in Lake Bluff, Illinois.  Our home was 795 tiny and cozy square feet.  Curt immersed himself in graduate school while I learned how to be a commuter, taking the train into Chicago every day.  We were completely alone with no friends or family.  All we had was each other. In Lake Bluff, we learned the importance of friendship.  We found a church we loved, started serving, and slowly began to build friendships.  We learned how to support and encourage each other through challenging times.  We got better at resolving conflict and grew closer each day.

little apartment
We never thought we'd stay in Illinois, but God had other plans.  The only door that opened for a post-Graduate School job for Curt was with an orthopedic group in Chicago.  We said goodbye to our tiny apartment and bought our first house in Hainesville, Illinois.  Three weeks after we moved in, we came through the garage door carrying an infant car seat and one adorably premature son named Grant.  History repeated itself the next two years, but this time the infant in the car seat was Katie.  Then Alli.  We made every newbie parenting mistake as we raised our babies in that sweet little home.  We bought new and matching furniture from a furniture store, used a workbench as a kitchen table, and painted our dining room lavender because we wanted to.  Our home in Hainesville is where we learned how to be homeowners.  We also learned to embrace the joys and sacrifices that parenting added to our marriage.

nothing like bringing home a healthy baby
Our quickly growing family and a booming housing market facilitated selling our Hainesville home and moving to a bigger home in Wauconda, Illinois.  But a three month overlap between homes led us to become "The Smilp Family."  We divided up our belongings between the homes of three different sets of our friends then moved ourselves in with our incredibly generous friends, Rick and Ann Smith.  They had four kids (ages seven to five months) and we brought a 3-year-old, 2-year-old, and 6-week-old to the mix.  Seven kids under the age of seven.  People told us we were all crazy and that our friendship would never last.  But God writes creative and incredible stories.  The Smith's opened their home to us and made it ours. They are still some our dearest friends.  Our time as the Smilp's taught us that generosity is one of the sweetest fragrances in a home.
the Smilp Kids

Wauconda, Illinois, was the next place we called home.  Certain we would never move again, we built our dream home on our dream lot.   We were the first family to move in on our street and we watched our neighborhood take shape as our kids grew. We decided we needed one more baby to fill the fourth bedroom and the next year an "It's a Girl" sign hung in our front window when Paige joined our family.  The years in Wauconda were a blur of poopy diapers, trips to the park next door, library classes, and more coughs, colds and flus than you could imagine.  Those days "in the trenches" were exhausting and exhilarating.  Curt and I fell in love all over again as we stood shoulder-to-shoulder, raising kids and scraping by on discount grocery shopping and rare coffee dates.

Our babies transformed before our eyes.  They morphed from innocent infants to opinionated toddlers to preppy little pre-schoolers and toothless elementary schoolers.  Our marriage put down roots in our home in Wauconda, grounding itself in our relationship with Jesus and with each other.   Our future seemed so certain and predictable.  And then God changed the story line.

Curt got a job in Portland, Oregon, and we watched as a professional moving crew loaded an entire semi-truck with our possessions that at one time were so meager they fit in the back of a trailer.  Fittingly, we spent our last night in Illinois as the Smilp Family before loading our mini-van for a road trip to our new home.  Five days later, we pulled into the driveway of our rental home in Newberg, Oregon.  We rented it sight-unseen and were thrilled when our temporary home on Oxford Street turned out to be spacious and in a great neighborhood.

On Oxford Street we brought home our puppy Dusty and adjusted to a new life where absolutely everything was different.  I got good at introducing myself to any Mom who dared to make eye contact with me.  Eventually we made our first friends.  Kelly, Alden and Oliver lived on the other end of Oxford Street and ended up being our best friends to date.  Our time on Oxford Street taught us to cling to each other and to God when life is lonely and everything is new and different.

Eventually we ended up moving across town to our current home in Newberg, Oregon.  We moved the week before Thanksgiving and in one week Curt transformed the sterile white walls into a colorful palette of warmth and homeyness.  We ate Thanksgiving dinner in our new home, surrounded by unpacked boxes but fully satisfied and content with the love of each other.  In this home we have watched our children move out of toddlerhood and into full blown elementary school age and even middle school tweens.

Growth can be painful.  This home has been a haven to shelter us from the pains of starting over again, learning new careers, a new church, new friends, a new climate, and even a new culture.  Our marriage has gone through a period of refining - skimming off the impurities that rise to the surface and leaving behind the beauty of a relationship tested by time.

Fifteen years.  Multiple homes.  But Babe - home is wherever I'm with you.

I can hardly wait to read the story God writes with the next fifteen.  Happy Anniversary.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Stilp's - 2012

My favorite Christmas tradition is the giving and receiving of Christmas cards, letters, and photos.  There are people on our Christmas card list that we've been exchanging cards with the entire time we've been married - which will be fifteen years in three day!

Since Curt and I moved frequently in the first decade of our marriage we have a pretty extensive Christmas card list.  We have demographics from our college years.  Our time in Minnesota as newlyweds.  Our time living in Chicago.  And now the friendships that have formed from our time living in Oregon.  Every year our list grows and without fail, I order too few cards the first time around and have to come up with a Plan B for all the people I want to add to the list.

While it's a boatload of work to coordinate a family photo, order the photo card, and a write a yearly letter, I cherish every part of it.  If your labels are crooked or upside down on the envelope, your letter is folded lopsided, or your picture is bent, it's because the kids love this tradition as much as I do.  For the past two years they've "helped" me with the Christmas cards.

This year our family celebrated Hanukkah for the first time - thanks to my Jewish friend who gave the kids their very own menorah and Hanukkah candles.  I addressed Christmas cards by the light of the Menorah while the rest of the family watched Polar Express.  Talk about a merging of winter holidays!

Of course our favorite part of the Christmas card tradition is when you all start sending cards and letters and photos to us.  Our entire family looks forward to getting the mail each day.  We rip open the cards, pass the pictures around, and ooh and aah over how much kids grow and families change.  We finish by taping the photos up on the wall.  Your photos create a cacophony of chaos, color and joy on our pantry door and the surrounding wall space.  We cherish them all year round.
our Wall of Fame is taking shape nicely.  Give us another week or two and there will be no wall space left at all.
You guys are awesome!!!!

I'd love to send a real Christmas photo and letter to all of you, but it is a little cost prohibitive.  So here's our family Christmas photo and our year summed up in one page or less.  We wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Grace and peace from our family to yours,

Curt, Jodi, Grant, Katie, Alli, and Paige

December 2012

2012 was characterized by change. Grant started junior high, Paige is a gone-all-day first grader, and Sarah (our “fifth child”) spread her wings and moved out. Curt transitioned into a new role at OHSU and I earned my first paycheck in eight years. Through it all we have felt grace and peace from God.

Grant (11 years, 6th grade) embraces each activity he participates in with gusto. In the past year he has tried and “LOVED” water polo, football, Lego robotics, and beginning band (percussion).  Grant paid his way to two summer camps by working as the sole proprietor of Grant’s Car and Lawn Care Company and learned the value of hard work in the process.  The bio he wrote in 5th grade reads, “Grant wants to play water polo at MIT.  He plans to major in aeronautical engineering and hopes to work at NASA designing a rocket that will send an astronaut to Mars.” We love his big dreams and uninhibited ambition.

Katie (10 years, 5th grade) is in her final year of elementary school and enjoys her job as library assistant.  As a result of this job she expanded her list of potential careers to include “actress, golf cart driver, or librarian.”  Katie played and loved soccer and softball.  She keeps us entertained with her “shows” that include choreography, costumes, siblings, and any visiting friends. Katie paid her way to a week of girl’s summer camp and her proudest camp moment was licking slugs.  Katie committed to read the Bible cover-to-cover this year and is a handful of pages away from finishing her goal.  We are so proud of her.

Alli (8 years, 3rd grade) attacks life with gusto and wears her heart on her sleeve. She gets bored quickly but found a sport she loves in gymnastics and is already in Level Three.  God continues to grow in Alli’s heart a love for the orphan and those who are suffering.  When she grows up she “wants to be a hair stylist, adopt two daughters from Haiti, and run an orphanage.” She recently received an invitation from a Pastor who oversees several orphanages in Zimbabwe to come and be “the first small girl missionary to the orphans there.”  With no hesitation, she responded, “YES!  If my Mom and Dad will let me.”

Paige (6 years, 1st grade) is very studious and will sit for hours reading, writing, coloring, and creating books that are “o-some.”  Paige (player) and I (assistant coach) made our soccer debuts this fall.  By the end of the season we actually knew a little about soccer and want to play again next year. Paige’s current career aspirations are to “be a farmer, mom and PE teacher.”  She plans to “hire a housekeeper to take care of the farm when I’m PE Teaching my kids.” Her birthday wish is “to go to Disneyland… oh and the place where Jesus died.” In January she donated ten inches of her thick, beautiful hair to make a wig for a child with cancer.  We love her delightful, generous spirit.

In January, Curt led a medical team from our church to Haiti.  He also officiated two weddings this summer.  I’m thinking we should all start calling him Reverend.  He has a new job title at OHSU - Clinical Coordinator - but when he grows up he really wants “to be a vacuum tinkerer.” We relayed a half-iron triathlon this summer with his cousin Sonja, which would have been more fun if it wasn’t snowing.  This fall Curt and Grant shadowed my brother Shane on a deer hunt in the Montana wilderness.  Judging from their huge smiles, this will be the first of many “man dates” the three of them share.

I (Jodi) tiptoed my way back into the part-time work force this year, picking up where I left off eight years ago with the McGahey Group. I’ve continued to write about life on my personal blog and occasionally for the women’s ministry blog at Solid Rock.  I also started co-writing for a faith-based fitness blog - My fitness highlights this year were shared with people I love: relaying the triathlon with Curt and Sonja, running every step of a marathon with my non-biological brother Jon, backpacking the Sisters Wilderness with Curt, hiking with the kids, and running a half marathon to honor our friend we lost to cancer.

This year we learned that peace is not simply “the absence of conflict.”  True peace is the “fullness of delight and all-encompassing joy.” One of the last things Jesus told his followers before he was arrested was this:  I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart.  And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives.  So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27) It’s our prayer for you this year.

Grace and peace from our family to yours,

Curt, Jodi, Grant, Katie, Alli, and Paige Stilp

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Christmas Carol in 2012 - Guest Post by Jeremy Stewart

Four years ago, Curt and I met Jeremy and Christy at a small church event.  We knew right away that we could be friends.  They laughed and joked freely, prayed with passion, and were open and real.  We got together a few times over the next couple of years - always enjoying each interaction - but distance between our homes, time, and life got in the way of developing a deeper friendship with them.

This year they moved closer to us when they bought an overgrown Christmas tree farm on Chehalem Mountain.  They invited us to come to their house this year to get our Christmas tree.  What could easily have just been a drop and dash turned into an afternoon of family fun.  Christy insisted on feeding our entire family (something that doesn't happen often when you bring six hungry mouths to the table) and we all reconnected over fresh air, good food, and great conversation.

Yesterday we received their Christmas card and letter.  I sat down to read it and was instantly drawn in.  Jeremy writes with passion and conviction about the journey their family has been on this year.  I finished the letter with tears in my eyes and knew I had to share it with you.  So with Jeremy and Christy's permission, here is their Christmas letter 2012.  I know you'll be encouraged by it.

Bella, Jeremy, Christy and Ruby

"Ebenezer Scrooge awoke from a dark and horrifying night, his frigid grey face set ablaze by searing tears of remorse and fear. Terror had rendered this flint-hearted man sobbingly helpless as he watched visions of his later life play out to it’s pathetic end--determined only by a continuance of the same choices he'd made for years. When he woke to Christmas day, he radiated the gratitude and blaring joy of a man with a new heart and a new chance. Now the ticking of clocks set the tempo by which he would breathe new praises and bless many people. This year, I feel this changed heart in my own chest. I feel a new lease on each passing second. I relate like a brother to this man who bores the name synonymous with stark greed and wretched indifference towards humanity. His best moments were certainly not in what he was, but what he was becoming. Our family is becoming something new too. Something changed. Something grateful. Something beautiful.

In the course of the year--Christy and I stumbled upon a new word: “Eucharisteo”. The word, in Greek, means “to give thanks”. We read about a woman who was challenged to create a list of one thousand simple things she was thankful for. When she began the slow listing of these gifts--all was labor and struggle. By the end, her entire posture had dramatically changed to one of utter gratitude towards God. What she formerly saw as despair--she now counted as beauty and grace. We were hopefully intrigued. To be acutely honest--we were desperately hopeful. We weren’t naive enough to think that life would devoid itself of ugliness and loss. Our deepest hope was that, at a minimum, thankfulness could make us present in our own lives.

Attentiveness starts as a desperate crawl. Gazing at shimmering leaves in sunlight--write it down. Hearing a wildly intoxicating laugh of an old man at a store--write it down. The poignant song played from a guitar at just the right moment--add that too. As we listed, our eyes became keen on sighting all things glorious and meaningful. From absurdity to deeply beautiful--item after item began to amass in our book. Our eyes met with joyful glimmering when we began to hear our daughters, Bella and Ruby, beginning to name their own gifts. It became apparent that life was changing for us. Occupied time was now slowed to reveal new spaciousness. Time surrendered its stressful bind and sight-distorting speed. A life of “when will we get there” gave way to a life of presence in God’s plan for NOW.

We realized that God was shouting at us through the NOW. Countless miracles happening in every fiber and molecule of every passing second. Drudgery was losing its war in our hearts--though it still won its hourly battles here and there. Abundance was daily becoming ours. Sometimes through more, sometimes by knowing that we already had enough. Hard times still came. This time, however, we found ourselves putting a pen to the blank paper and filling the blankness with thanks to God for the beauty that is hiding in trials, tragedy and loss.

This is Christmas. We’ve discovered that our thankfulness sheds the chains that darkness wraps us in - the very chains that Jacob Marley clanked horrifically in Scrooge’s face. Jesus was born into frigid darkness. He shattered darkness as he walked through it. He beat down prison doors and pulverized chains with the blunt end of a rough timber cross. Even while this very week, darkness beats heavy on many of our hearts--Christ promised that one day, he would put all darkness away--completing the work that began on Christmas day.

And so we leave you with a few of our gifts….

37.  The explosive laughter of a grinning Ruby Jane
81.  Giggling girls running through a field
168. The death of two grandfathers--sorrow-soaked anticipation of a grand reunion
296.  A new home in the country with acres of Christmas trees to tend
449. The intelligence and independence of Bella Grace--a beautiful gift and fresh motivation to grow as parents
574.  Sparkling Christmas lights on neighbor’s houses
697. The victorious battle of a much loved 2-year old against Leukemia’s deadly grasp
705. Early snowfall—bring wonder into our two little girls’ eyes
753. An unchanging God amidst this unstable and often frightful world
798. The light of an open sky
801. Eager expectations for the year ahead

With love,
Jeremy, Christy, Bella and Ruby Stewart    

December 2012"

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Remembering Newtown, CT - guest poem by Cameo Smith

I've been trying to put into words how I feel about the shooting in Connecticut.  The darkness of such deep evil is disturbing and heart breaking.  I live in Newberg.  It's a town of around 23,000 people and I imagine it to be very similar to Newtown, Connecticut.  I have an angelic daughter who is in first grade.  It's impossible not to personalize this tragedy.

It's been raining here for the past week.  The other day I drove by our little city's flag pole.  It was gray, stormy and rainy.  The flag was at half-mast to honor these children who died too young.  As soon as I saw the flag, I started crying.  I knew I needed a photo.  It was like Jesus was weeping too.

And then I saw this poem.  From what I can tell online the credit goes to Cameo Smith from Mt. Wolf, Pennsylvania, for writing it.  (Thank you Cameo, if indeed you did write this).  The poem is raw and powerful.  And brings me back to hope.  In the face of dark and grave evil there is a Light that shines brighter.  Jesus - the Light of the World.  

Twas' 11 days before Christmas, around 9:38,
When 20 beautiful children stormed through heaven's gate.
Their smiles were contagious, their laughter filled the air.
They could hardly believe all the beauty they saw there.
They were filled with such joy, they didn't know what to say.
They remembered nothing of what had happened earlier that day.
"Where are we?" asked a little girl, as quiet as a mouse.
"This is heaven." declared a small boy. "We're spending Christmas at God's house."
When what to their wondering eyes did appear,
but Jesus, their Savior, the children gathered near.
He looked at them and smiled, and they smiled just the same.
Then He opened His arms and He called them by name.
And in that moment was joy, that only heaven can bring.
Those children all flew into the arms of their King.
And as they lingered in the warmth of His embrace,
One small girl turned and looked at Jesus' face.
And as if He could read all the questions she had
He gently whispered to her, "I'll take care of mom and dad."
Then He looked down on earth, the world far below.
He saw all of the hurt, the sorrow, and woe.
Then He closed His eyes and He outstretched His hand,
"Let My power and presence re-enter this land!"
"May this country be delivered from the hands of fools"
"I'm taking back my nation. I'm taking back my schools!"
Then He and the children stood up without a sound.
"Come now my children, let me show you around."
Excitement filled the space, some skipped and some ran.
All displaying enthusiasm that only a small child can.
And I heard Him proclaim as He walked out of sight,
"In the midst of this darkness, I AM STILL THE LIGHT."

Written by Cameo Smith, Mt. Wolf, PA

In memory of:

Olivia Engel, 6 
Emilie Parker, 6
Charlotte Bacon, 6
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine Hsu, 6
Catherine Hubbard, 6
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison Wyatt, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Josephine Gay, 7
Chase Kowalski, 7
Grace McDonnell, 7
Anne Marie Murphy, 25
Victoria Soto, 27
Rachel Davino, 29
Lauren Rousseau, 30
Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Mary Sherlach, 56

Sunday, December 16, 2012

November Day - a Poem by Grant Stilp

Grant - 11 years - December 2012
My son Grant (11 years, 6th grade) has been writing poetry lately.  These poems are school assignments and not his favorite kind of writing, but they're good.  This one was published in the Club Herald, a district wide newspaper for kids.

November Day
by Grant Stilp

My eyes snap open It's here
we're gonna leave I get to see them
it's time, November is the time
Now we're driving
huh, so boring
look out the window
trees are dropping their leaves
it's time, November is the time
I see them 
we're here
mmmm I smell pumpkin pie
and hot chocolate!
it's time November is the time
It's Thanksgiving day
the turkey is cooking
nice and warm inside
grave and windy outside
it's time November is the time
here comes the turkey
mmm it smells so good
giving thanks
it's time November is the time
Friends and family
colorful trees
yummy food
a time of thanks and gratitude
when we come together
and remember all the things we've been given
it's time November is the time.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hope That Does Not Disappoint

I've been reflecting lately about 2012 and trying to summarize it in one page or less for my annual Christmas letter.  But I keep getting stuck.  The Christmas letter and photo are supposed to paint a picture of perfection.  Here's a picture of my family.  Aren't we cute, showered, well dressed and put together?  Just in case we don't look put together enough from the picture, here's a letter explaining how great we all are.  We want life to look like this.

But the truth is life is messy.  We are NOT perfect or put together all the time.  We are however typically showered and always dressed, but not necessarily seasonally appropriate.  And I will always think my kids are adorable (but that's kind of my job).  More often than not, life looks more like this:  a mixed up combination of chaos, vulnerability, and joy.

2012 has been, in a word, CHALLENGING.  There have been very high highs and very low lows.  Never in my life have I felt so ill-equipped to handle the life God has called me to.  Which is ironic because I like to be good at stuff.  It's why I don't write for a Lego Robotics blog, make crafts to sell on Etsy, and why I quit being an accountant before I ever started.  I am very aware of my limitations and weaknesses.  I avoid them as much as possible.  But this year, my limitations and weaknesses have collided headfirst with life.  

My house, which I like to keep clean, tidy and free from unfinished projects, has been continually in a state of disarray more often than not.  I currently am looking at three huge bulletin boards that have been leaning against the wall waiting to be hung for a month.  The kitchen floor has muddy footprints on it, the Christmas tree has shed piles of needles on my carpet, and the toilets all have a ring around the inside that may or may not come out with lots of scrubbing.  My dining room table is stacked with the chaos of multiple unfinished projects.  This is NOT how I like to function.

I have rejoiced as friends and family married, had babies, and bought their first homes.  I've wept as friends and family divorced, lost their homes, and grieved over babies that are longed for but still are not home. My friends have lost loved ones - including children- to untimely death, received cancer diagnosis, and worked through painful relationships.  And these mindless shootings.  I'm weeping as I read about the elementary school shooting that happened today.  High highs.  Low lows.

When I signed up for motherhood I assumed, because I'm passionate about it, it would come easily to me.  Instead it has been my greatest challenge.  I want so badly to love, train and discipline my children in a way that honors God and reveals to them just how much I love them.  When my inadequacies come through on a daily basis it's hard for me to keep perspective.  All I can see is my failings and then guilt sets in.  Guilt gives way to despair. Sometimes we just need a little hope.

One of my favorite definitions of the word hope is "a great confidence in what is going to happen."  It can be hard to have great confidence in what is going to happen when life is scary, unpredictable, and outside our ability to control.  We need a big-picture perspective.

I read Romans chapter 5 (NIV translation) this morning and was so encouraged.  Verses two through five say, "And we rejoice in the HOPE of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."

The Message, an intelligent paraphrase of the Bible, defines hope as "alert expectancy" and rewords the passage to read like this.  "There's more to come:  we continue to shout our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we're never left feeling shortchanged.  Quite the contrary - we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!"

I still don't know how to sum up a year in a handful or paragraphs.  My house is still a mess.  I don't have the answers to WHY this world is so messed up and why so many people are hurting and broken. I don't have a magic Mommy Wand to transform myself into all I desire to be.

But I do have Jesus.  And He promises hope that does not disappoint.  And so I choose to stay alert for whatever God will do next.  That is something to rejoice in, even in the brokenness of this world.  Come Lord Jesus!