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December 29, 2007

Christmas 2007

051We had a great time with family this Christmas!

On the Saturday before Christmas we gathered at Grandpa Dean and Grandma Jeanne's for Vander Well Christmas (part 1). Taylor and Madison were with their mom, so it was just Wendy braving the oncoming snow storm on the drive to Des Moines. Terry, Bonnie and Ellie were in town from Chicago, and we got to meet their new puppy, a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Daisy.

We had a wonderful lunch and opened gifts before Wendy and I had to high-tail it back to Pella before the weather got any worse. As always, there were plenty of gifts to go around. Grandpa and Grandma decided to give us kids some special heirlooms from the Vander Well family. They gave me the Dutch family Bible that belonged to my Great-Grandfather who came to the states from the036_2 Netherlands in the late 1800s (very cool). Jody kept Grandpa Vander Well's head warm with the cap she knit for Grandma (see picture).

On Christmas Eve day we were expecting to travel to Iowa City where Wendy's brother and sister-in-law, Jesse and Heidi, were expecting thier first baby. God granted Heidi's Christmas wish and little Sophia Parker came a week early. Rather than put Heidi through hosting all 15 of us in their three bedroom apartment, everyone came to our house!

Of course, little Sophia was the center of attention. The little cutie got passed around all day long and never fussed a bit. We had more great food (ugh!) and plenty of laughter as the family stayed all afternoon. We loved having Heidi's parents, Miss Ann and Mr. Fred, join us from Louisiana!050

Christmas Eve was a quiet one for Wendy and me. After a day full of food and family we waddled over to sit on the couch - just the two of us - to watch a movie (that ever-sentimental holiday classic - Live Free or Die Hard).

Christmas morning was just the four of us exchanging gifts in our home. In an act of extreme, sacrificial love, Wendy gave me the 23-hour documentary Baseball by Ken Burns (Wendy hates 041documentaries). I on the other hand, gave Wendy a hand-mixer, mixing bowls, a double-boiler and a book of chocolate recipes. Anyone who's had Wendy's cooking - especially her cheesecake - will immediately realize that I am going to personally benefit from these gifts, but she did ask for all of it (okay - most of it - I swear I remember her saying she wanted mixing bowls!) :)

Speaking of Wendy's cooking. We usually like to have a nice, big family breakfast - just the four of us - on Christmas morning. We opted to skip it this year. Part of it was that we knew we'd be eating very well in just a few hours.  I also realized that, were I to go swimming that morning, I would easily be mistaken for a small, off-shore island.

As far as the rest of the gifts, the girls, being teenagers, got what they wanted: cash. Cold, hard, cash. Dinero. Dough. Jack. Bones. Moo-la. Greenbacks. Samoles. Scratch. I'm sure it will go towards clothes, though Madison did use hers to buy a new nano video iPod. I must note that Taylor, prompted by the Holy Spirit, was instrumental in raising cash (read: hundreds of dollars) from among her teen-aged peers and donating much of her own money to a needy local family. What can I say? The girl's a class-act.

By noon on Christmas Day the four of us were back at the Vander Wells for Christmas part deaux. Tim was back from his trip to Europe and the girls were anxious to see their cousins (see picture). More (urp!) food, followed by more gifts, followed by more food, followed by games.

Wendy and I took a break to buzz over for a Christmas visit with the Van Tuyl family (Wendy's relatives - though not by blood - you see Wendy is....well, it's complicated...just trust me, they're family). It was a great visit and we received this really cool little toy guitar that sounds real and is easy to play. Madison's been having fun with it!

We went back to the Vander Wells and enjoyed some more conversation before Aunt Jody talked Grandpa Dean in to making eierflensjes. This is a thin Dutch crepe (sprinkled with sugar, honey, or jelly then rolled up) that has been a rare family treat through the years. My "Grandpa V" used to make with my Dad for family gatherings when were kids. We still try to have them once or twice a year. So, Dad whipped up a bunch, which was a good thing since we'd certainly HADN'T HAD ENOUGH TO EAT!

That's probably more detail than you wanted. Wendy and I have commented at what a blessing it is to gather with all of our various mixtures of family, and to thoroughly enjoy the time. There was no fighting. There was no bickering. There was no tension. There was a lot of conversation. There was a lot of laughter. There were special moments. There were tears of joy. There was prayer and the holding of hands.

...and plenty of food :)

December 28, 2007

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 22

Nowhere God, God...my God! Why did you dump me miles from nowhere? Psalm 22:1 (TM)

When you read Psalm 21 and Psalm 22 next to each other you begin to wonder if David was manic depressive. He goes from "everything is great and God is blessing me with everything I ask for" to "why did you dump me miles from nowhere?"

I don't think David was manic. I think he was human, and his Psalms are 3,000 year old blog posts that chronicle the normal ups and downs of human experience. December is a time to reflect back on the previous year and look forward to the next. What one of us can't look back at the last year and remember both Psalm 21 days and and Psalm 22 days? Who hasn't praised God one day and then muttered complaints the next?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Jeff Bauche

December 27, 2007

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 21

2008 Show your strength, God, so no one can miss it. We are out singing the good news! Psalm 21:13 (TM)

A mentor and friend of mine used to always say, "the best is yet to come". It became his catch-phrase for a long while and I heard him utter it countless times. It stuck. I think about that phrase almost every time I attempt to peer down the road at the horizon. "the best is yet to come."

Through good times and tough times, the best is yet to come.
Through divorce and despair, the best is yet to come.
Through blessings and boon, the best is yet to come.
Through death and grief, the best is yet to come.
Through 2008, the best is yet to come.

Show your strength, God, so no one can miss it!

December 26, 2007

Decorate With Love

DecorationsThe Christmas festivities are almost over. It's been a long, four-day weekend of gatherings and get-togethers. My waistband is screaming for mercy. My garbage can is overflowing with tissue paper, wrapping paper, boxes and bows.

Wendy decided that she was going to skimp on the decorations this year. There was no great spiritual motivation for this decision. I think it was more about sanity. So, there was no big tree with lights and ornaments - just a little 12 inch tree with no lights and pre-attached red bulbs that we pulled off a shelf in the cellar and stuck on a side table. Then there was the nativity set. That's it.

Call us Scrooge if  you wish, but the reality is that Christmas came to our house on Monday. From Grandma Vander Hart down to newborn little Sophia we had a house decorated in loved-ones, laughter and love.

And I don't have to spend hours packing the decorations away!

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 20

David When you win, we plan to raise the roof and lead the parade with our banners. May all your wishes come true! Psalm 20:5 (TM)

One of the things you realize about David as you read through the Psalms is the pervasive nature of his faith. It was never about what he was going to do but what God was going to do. It was never about his victories but about God's victory. It was never about his strength, but about God's power.

God, grant me more of David-like faith. Help me see You in every bit of me. Help me acknowledge you in every circumstance.

December 24, 2007

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 19

Judgement Keep me from stupid sins, from thinking I can take over your work; Psalm 19:13a (TM)

The job I've been guilty of "thinking I can take over" for God is that of judge. I can look back through my life and see all of the people who I've judged in so many inappropriate ways. I've come to learn that the judgement seat of God is a huge chair and my butt doesn't fit it. I took off my "junior holy spirit" badge a long time ago. My job is to love, bear, encourage, and forgive. Judgement is God's job - His alone.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and JLM.

December 21, 2007

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 18

Sand_house Is there any god like God? Are we not at bedrock? Psalm 18:31 (TM)

I wonder if it was this psalm that prompted Jesus story about of the two men who built their houses - one on sand and the other on solid rock. The results were like night and day.

Bedrock - and we're not talkin' Fred Flinstone. We're talking solid foundation on which you can build to the sky and know for certain that you will stand no matter what the elements throw at you. That's good stuff!

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and oldshoewoman

December 20, 2007

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 17

Prayer_boardI call to you, God, because I'm sure of an answer. Psalm 17:6a (TM)

This verse struck me this morning, not only because of David's faith (being sure of an answer), but also the fact that his faith motivated him to pray. Because he was sure God would answer, it spurred him to call out to God. I have seen God answer prayer so many times in so many ways, but I have to admit that I'm still not always motivated to pray. It often seems like a chore - another check on the spiritual to-do list.

I need a little of David's heart today.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and ninjaneil

December 19, 2007

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 16

Think I say to God, "Be my Lord!" Without you, nothing makes sense. Psalm 16:2 (TM)

I have no idea how I would navigate life without my relationship with Jesus. When I look back at the highest peaks in my life - He was behind it and in it. He preceded me into the darkest valleys along the journey and walked with me every step of the way. Knowing that He is there and that He has been utterly faithful gives me faith and hope for today and tomorrow.

Without Him, nothing makes sense.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and noamg

December 18, 2007

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 15

Invitation God, who gets invited to dinner at your place? How do we get on your guest list? Psalm 15:1 (TM)

What a great question. The interesting thing about this Psalm is that David goes on to offer his ideas on the things that will earn a place on God's guest list, and yet if he thought about his own life he would realize that he made God's guest list when Samuel anointed him king as a young shepherd boy. God graciously invited him to dinner and appointed him a place of honor and it didn't have a thing to do with what David had done - or had not done. God blessed David throughout his life and honored him by "establishing his throne forever" and proclaiming Jesus the "son of David". Again, this had nothing to do with what David had done or had not done.

If you're wondering what to do to get on God's invitation list - relax. You're invited.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and philthecow.