Friday, December 12, 2008

My Advent/Christmas Letter - With Pictures!

With Becky in Nashville
Thomas and Dad at their tournament on the Mississippi River

Playing in the sand at Lake Michigan

Bike trip to Buffalo Rock

Birthday canoe trip on the Kankakee River!

Dear Friend,

Greetings to you this Advent season! At this time of reflecting on the incarnation of Christ, and looking forward with hope to His return, I wanted to reconnect with you and share some of my own reflections and hopes! I hope this finds you well, and I would certainly enjoy hearing from your heart as well.

This year has been an interesting year. At the beginning, I knew my life was in transition, but had no idea where it would lead. Now, as the year is nearly over, it is amazing to see how far I've come, yet to know that my journey in many senses has just begun!

In the spring I had a plan (with the knowledge in my mind all along that, oftentimes, God changes our plans!) to move to South Carolina and work at a shelter for women & children. However, through my experiences substitute teaching, volunteering at the Center of Hope, and just generally living life in Kankakee, I felt a strange, new desire to stay right where I was at. In my decision-making process, one thing I prayed is that God would release me from this feeling if I was supposed to go to SC. I did not experience such a release. In fact, after deciding to stay in Kankakee, I felt great peace about it. I was, however, left with the very big question of: "Now what?"

As I said, I was substitute teaching (which I loved!), and volunteering at the Center of Hope (our local compassionate ministry, which is basically a food pantry). Since I would not be subbing in the summer, I needed a job. God provided, and the board of the Center approved for me to come on staff part-time as assistant to Renita, the director. I also got to spend some more time babysitting some of the special children in my life over the summer... but also had plenty of free time, including much time spent with my family. I began to ride my bike a lot (and was thrilled to discover this new form of transportation, with which I can be a better steward of the resources God has given me!), and even took a short overnight bike trip (approx. 100 miles total) with some of my friends. I also got to experience some nice mini-vacations not far from home - at the Indiana Dunes National Park, and the Mississippi Palisades State Park. I realized that even living in Illinois affords some great opportunities to visit places of natural beauty! Most of all, the summer was a time of true spiritual and emotional refreshing for me, which I very much needed.

Toward the end of summer, I went on a couple of more road trips. This time, they were farther, and somewhat bittersweet. I helped Jesse and Carra move to the Kansas City area, and the next week helped Thomas and Jeanne move to Milwaukee! I'm very happy for them as they have started out in their new homes (and have been fortunate enough to see them all through several visits here or there), but sure do miss having them around! (Especially, of course, my niece Adele, who turned 3 in October and is as bright and sweet as ever!) My dad also left at the end of summer, to spend time working and soaking up the sun in South Carolina. His girlfriend Lori also moved there, and they were married October 8th. Of course, he returned to Illinois for deer hunting season, so I got to see him around Thanksgiving, while Lori visited her sister & newborn niece in Pennsylvania.

In the fall, subbing started up again, work at the Center continued, and one of the families that I used to babysit for during college contacted me again; so my work schedule is a mixture of days and evenings, being on call and flexible, and spending lots of time with children and poor people - all of which I absolutely love! What can I say? I am blessed. With my flexible schedule, I have been able to take a couple of small trips (to Nashville to visit my college roommate Becky, and friends Eric and Joy; and to Kansas City to visit family and friends), and I am planning even more! One of the trips, however, will not be so small: I will be going to Palestine for two weeks in March. (More on that in a moment!)

For about the last three months I have been getting to know a wonderful young man, Jake Mau, and recently we decided that we are officially dating! He graduated from Moody Bible Institute, lives in Chicago, and works for World Relief (an agency that helps resettle refugees). If you're thinking his last name sounds familiar, it's because he is the younger brother of my sister-in-law Carra! We have lots in common, including a passion for serving the poor in Christ's name.

The longer I live in my home community of Kankakee, and the longer I seek to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, the more I am convinced of a great need to share the love and hope of Christ through not only words but actions. My heart is especially burdened for those who are poor and suffering. I believe God pays special notice to them, and wants them to know that He is with them through their suffering, that He hears their cries for help, and that He loves them enough to redeem every part of their lives.
While I have plenty of opportunities to do this right here in Kankakee, I also feel a certain Christian obligation to give my life in service to the poor of the whole world. So, my hope is that in some small way I may make a difference, and my life may speak truth to people and spread light in places that desperately need it, regardless of cultural or political boundaries. This is why I have chosen to take a trip to Palestine (and possibly spend more time there in the future) with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). CPT is rooted in the peace tradition of the Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Quakers. The teams work in different parts of the world where there is lethal conflict (including Colombia, Iraq, and just recently, the Democratic Republic of Congo) and work with local groups doing nonviolent peacemaking. If you're interested in hearing more about my trip and CPT, or if you'd like to support me financially or through prayer, please let me know.

I would like to encourage you, wherever you are in life right now, to be open to the voice of the Lord... just as it came to Mary through the messenger Gabriel, who said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Like Mary, sometimes we are greatly troubled at hearing this, and wonder if God has really chosen us to do His work. His resounding response is "Do not be afraid!" And although we may not know "how will this be," if we respond humbly and obediently - "I am the Lord's servant; May it be to me as you have said" - then we will see His glory revealed and His promises fulfilled (see Luke 1:46-55)!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

O Holy Night

Reflecting on, and delighting in, the powerful truths told in this song...

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O, hear the angels' voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.

He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King!
Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Behold your King.

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.