{ No Selfies in Bethlehem }

God had it planned:

Jesus was born into a

non-digital,

less mobile,

less global

earth.

 

That meant:

No shepherds Instagramming.

No angels captured on YouTube.

No Mary & Joseph taking selfies.

No wise men following a GPS.

No paparazzi hovering.

 

How peaceful.

 

 

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“O Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are but a small Judean village, yet you will be the birthplace of my King who is alive from everlasting ages past!” Micah 5:2 (written about 700 years before Jesus was born)

In the Bleak Midwinter

This is my favorite Christmas carol, based on a poem by Christina Rossetti:

“The only people who soul can truly magnify the Lord are…people who acknowledge their lowly estate and are overwhelmed by the condescension of the magnificent God.”

-John Piper

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{ Closed Doors and Open Windows }

Life is a series of closed doors and open windows. And open doors and closed windows.
Then, there are doors that you thought were open that shut abruptly in your face.

On the other hand, doors you thought were locked can be surprisingly easy to kick open.
And occasionally, a tightly closed window will fall open, unhinged, enrapturing your soul.


Why write this?
In a desire to avoid a traditional Christmas letter, I still want to look over the year thoughtfully and learn the lessons I’ve been given. That’s what you do when you are fifty-plus. You learn that it’s worthwhile to spend 30 minutes reflecting, so that you can avoid months of making the same mistakes.

Or to be more honest, if I don’t write it down, I will forget.

January 2018 began with some confusion and a closed door. It brought the opportunity for us, as imperfect parents, to seek wisdom from the Wisdom Giver and use it to give sage advice. It’s a humbling tightrope to tiptoe upon, but asking, seeking, knocking and walking in faith will always get you to the destination God has for you.

When a door slams, the breeze it creates can heal and cause growth.

June brought another graduation, which means pasta and purple-frosted sheet cake. I leafed through old photos, amazed at how God closes precious doors at the same time He offers those looming, open windows. They lead to who-knows-where and it’s a little scary. But He is holding our hand as we slide our way through them.
Summer 2018 days were traditional and new at the same time:

  • Swimming lessons in a different pool.
  • Beach trips to new local shores.
  • New project ideas at the same old county fair.

The garden was stingy with tomatoes, but generous in zinnias, bees and butterflies.

Then came a wide open window, a chance to see an old friend after many years. That meeting was unexpected & sweet.
Summer ushered us gently into fall, so we basked in apple-bounty and we crafted on a shoestring. New doors opened for my husband and his job shook up our schedule, but it also gifted us with new stories and opportunities.
In November we celebrated Turkey Bowl #19. My husband is almost 60 and runs around a football field with such agility that his fellow amateur athletes think he’s 35. I will continue to thank God for my husband’s good health, even as I get out the Tiger Balm and Epsom salts.
And shortly after we hosted new friends for Thanksgiving, I looked at my kitchen with fresh eyes:

We have lived here for 20 years. It’s time to give this place a face lift.

  • I am shutting the proverbial door on those faded chicken curtains and poultry art in general.
  • I am ready to toss threadbare towels and lose that bright yellow bathroom.

(These are the types of Home Decorating Mission Statements that I hope will propel me through 2019.)
So, paint chips have been secured, walls stripped bare of rooster paraphernalia and Pinterest has been feverishly scanned. I hope next year’s recap will include some home decor success stories.

Still in 2018, we have a son who is following an idea, a dream, a possibility. It’s progressing; it’s full of many little steps. And if — after all the steps — this son finds a closed door, it will be okay. The hallway he walked down has been worth it.

Sometimes a closed door gives you the oomph to scale a ladder and pry open a window, where you find something better.

And sometimes, you just pivot, re-trace your steps, turn the corner and look for another inviting door to try.

Oh, I forgot the books.

Books and audiobooks (new & old favorites) inspired and entertained us in 2018:

In 2018, we saw new babies born and sick marriages die. People entered our lives and our church, and people exited. A dear family moved miles away and started a new chapter and we are happy for their open window…but it looks a little like a closed door on our side.

And still in 2018, our peers became in-laws and grandparents and we were reminded that we are all getting older. This happens slowly–and never in our hearts — but always in the mirror.
Well, I’ll end here for now — unless I God opens a window in my brain and reminds me of something important I forgot.
© Lisa M. Luciano

Photo credits:

white infinity doors:Filip Kominik

colored locker doors:moren hsu

blue windows:Paul Fleury

{ Fall 2018 In Pictures }

It’s difficult to condense a season into a few photos.  And, to look at these, you might think everything looks ever-fragrant and all-smiles at our house. A more thorough post would include snaps of dirty laundry & dusty corners and a soundbite of a squabble or two.  This is just a brief, pictorial record of an imperfect family, living day to day by God’s grace.  We have to ask forgiveness when we step on each other’s toes and get selfish or lazy about loving one another. Anyway, here are a few random pieces of fall 2018. You have to catch this fast-moving life while you can.

 

 

 

 

 

{ DIY & Dubious Thanksgiving }

Our Thanksgiving was a little different this year.

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My sister and family were spending the holiday with her in-laws. My brother and family live in San Diego now.  My single cousin Clee, who usually spends holidays with us, was with her brother’s family.

So, our guest list would simply be: my mother and her friend, Marlene. Marlene is a dear widow who is legally blind.  She is a classy dresser who wears red-rimmed cat-eye glasses.

In addition to the sparse guest list, we threw another curve ball when we told the children,

“This is a Do-It-Yourself Thanksgiving.  You can all plan one dish, buy the ingredients and prepare it yourself.”

Then, our oldest daughter mentioned that a Facebook acquaintance was in the area for Thanksgiving weekend: Nathan, a seminary grad student from Sri Lanka.

When my daughter asked if he could join us for Thanksgiving dinner, some of the other children seemed dubious…even shocked.

I regret to admit they said things like:

  • We don’t even know him.
  • He could be a weirdo.
  • Why would we invite someone we’ve never met?

So much for the Christian spirit of hospitality.

In the end, we all had a marvelous time:

  • Marlene and mom were excellent company and formidable game-players. We learned new things about both of them.
  • Everyone stepped up with the DIY dishes; we had abundant leftovers, as usual.
  • Nathan was friendly, intelligent and a definite non-weirdo. (If he’s writing a blog, I wonder what his prediction and assessment of us would be?)

So, I am thankful for uncertain opportunities, new friends, and rich experiences that help us grow!

I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving.  I wonder how you spent it?

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 
Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. ~ 1 Peter 4:8-9

(c) Lisa M. Luciano

Photo Credit:  Zbysiu Rodak

{ Oreos in the Library }

Lisa E. is our spunky, non-stereotypical local librarian.

She slipped us some photos the other day.

“Here are some photo story starters.  Get writing!”

Lisa was intrigued by this mysterious photo that’s been circulating on the internet, and she wanted us to make up a story about it:

oreos

With access to every library in the world, Lisa has a lot of power. I’m not going to cross her. So I wrote my story and handed it to her.  The next time I walked through the library door, she demanded that I empty my pockets.  She was looking for contraband. This is why:

The O.R.E.O. Society

There’s not much to do over a cold Minnesota winter. The windchill forces normally independent Midwestern folks into their homes. After three days of winter’s house arrest, even the most adventurous souls begin to forget that there is an outside world. We hunker down, glad we are well-stocked with coffee, bread, milk, eggs, cream and more coffee. We have a stash of dried beans for emergencies and chocolate for daily sustenance. Stacks of books line the walls, serving the dual purpose of reading material and extra insulation.

So, we stay inside.

We wrap ourselves in cozy, minky blankets. We position the coffee pot next to our armchairs and sofas (or beds). We are entertained by books, energized by coffee and sedated by the radiant logs in the fireplace.

And we keep reading.

We read fiction to cheer our souls and warm our blood. It’s dark half the day, but when we finish a book that we know it is time to sleep.

When we feel isolated, we chat online about the books we are reading.

And this was how the O.R.E.O.** Society was born.

During a particularly bleak and snow-dumped winter, several disgruntled Minnesota readers happened to share their common discontent with the story endings of books like these: 

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  • My Sister’s Keeper
  • Mockingjay
  • Gone Girl
  • Goldfinch

Amongst the group, there was a visceral hunch that something was very wrong.

When you are in a cold state of semi-hibernation with books as your dearest friends, you feel more deeply the injustice of an incomplete or unhappy ending.

And they had a whole seven months (typical MN hibernating phase) to stew over it.

One member of the group would share his dissatisfaction and then another member would read the book and agree. Bitterness and rage spread. Nightmares replaced normally peaceful sleep patterns. Disturbing dreams were tangled up with dangling denouement from closed books. 

January and February were spent in a trancelike state, with life hanging in the balance between “fiction grief” and the voracious hope for a perfect ending.

But this hope seemed to be a bunch of malarkey.

Then the April sun peeked out.

Like a tulip bulb that blooms after a hard freeze, the reading group came to life before the first of May. They were ready to take action. They had one large online chat and appointed a leader. They named the group O.R.E.O.** and planned “lethal action against all dissatisfying books.”

Then, they passed out the Sharpies.

The plan was simple:

  • Enter local libraries.
  • Locate a bad book ending and attack with a Sharpie.
  • Connect with fellow conspirators and debrief.
  • Enter another library.

And, how would the members find one another? Besides their pale skin and disappointed looks, they would know each other by the sign of a common Oreo cookie (regular, not Double Stuff) positioned as a signal near at each member’s reading station.

So, if you happen to see an Oreo cookie in a library, you have two choices.

  1. Report any suspicious activity to a librarian.
  2. Grab a Sharpie and join them.

**Opaque Revisionists Entering Our Libraries

© Lisa M. Luciano

{ Substitute Babysitter }

The Hillstroms from church needed a babysitter and my daughter couldn’t do it after all. She wouldn’t export her runny nose and annoying cough into the already stressed Hillstrom home.

Linzy was going to meet her husband Matt for marriage counseling, and their six active kiddos needed energetic supervision.

So I approached their country home, not knowing what to expect. I had never been there; never helped out. I was a little sketchy on all their names and I was out of my comfort zone.

First, we plunged into backyard hide-and-seek. Between games, we paused for show-and-tell breaks, like when Riley showed me his recent bow-and-arrow injury and Jojo pointed out the onions poking up in the garden. Then we returned to our crouched positions under the pine tree or behind the bikes in the shed. I huddled with the little ones, who squirmed and rustled and ruined the hiding places. Then we started all over again.

Suddenly, everyone grabbed their bikes, trikes and scooters and soared freely along the dusty, rural road. I strolled the baby, ready to redirect the parade if a car came along.

julian-scholl-771159-unsplash

I employed my former public school teacher’s voice and relied on 20+ years of motherhood to cope with minor scuffles and occasional sibling rivalry.

“Linzy is a good mom,” I thought as I served the meal on the stove to her happy, helpful kids. The able dish-doers scaled a wooden bench to reach the sink and finish the cleanup.

Next, Annie informed me of the house bedtime rules with a serious, spaghetti-stained face:

“You read us stories. And we can snuggle with our blankets. And then we brush our teeth.”

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As we wrapped up the bedtime routine, I thought:

“When was the last time I just played and read stories with my own children for 3 hours?”

It had been a busy, but pleasant evening.

When Linzy arrived home, I thought it was over.

But the next Sunday, I was assaulted with warm embraces and surrounded with sparkly smiles.

I was suddenly the famous, beloved babysitter of just one evening.

I had run around barefoot in the backyard.

I had read books and given hugs.

I had learned their names and the house rules.

And for these small things, I would be paid with loving looks for the rest of my life.

That’s a pretty good deal for a substitute babysitter.

(c) Lisa M. Luciano

Photo Credits:

Country Scene — Julian Schöll

Books — Robyn Budlender

{ My Psalm 34 }

I will choose to praise God – all the time.

He will be at the center of my words, my whims, and my ways.

My soul is clean because He washed it. Anyone who feels low, or dirty or discouraged– take heart! My God can be yours, too.

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Join me in a standing ovation for God!  Applauding, dancing and shouting for joy is not enough!  I want to show everyone how huge, how powerful and how worthy God is!

He’s at the root of everything, and He is the maker of it all.

As for me…I constantly need direction, hope and help.

I often crave comfort, contentment and healing.

That’s when I go searching for God in my thoughts, my dreams and my prayers.

It’s as if He wants me to search for Him,

think about Him and

ask Him for every little thing.

Because when I search with all my heart, I find Him waiting there for me.

And He sends my fears flying.

My soul glows when I think of God– and I’m not ashamed that I need Him.

When I feel poor and needy and unloved, He hears me.

He saves me out of anxious thoughts and guides me out of self-made troubles.

His angels huddle protectively around me.

I will trust God on any pathway and through every valley.

He will always deliver me in His own perfect way.

 

Inspired by Psalm 34:1-7

© Lisa M. Luciano

Photo Credit:Matt Botsford

{What’s in Your Hand?}

IMG_20181018_110200 (1)
This is a wreath made from the abundance of healthy and aggressive wild cucumber vine that took over our yard last summer.

 

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘What is that in your hand?’” Exodus 4:2

When summer arrives, my children start thinking about making art projects for the County Fair.  Come rainy summer days, they pile crayons, markers and paints on a table and create potential first-prize-winning art.

Rather than load up a WalMart cart with manufactured foam shapes and fake gems, I try to encourage the young artists to forage around the backyard for art supplies.

In our “big outdoor art supply store”, they can glean grapevines, sticks, twigs and seed pods. They choose smooth rocks for painting and we grow birdhouse gourds that eventually become Mod Podge masterpieces.

When we create with these materials, at least we will know that — for better or worse — our projects will be unique.

After all, no one else could possibly bring the same oddly-shaped, wood-burned gourd studded with round pebbles to the County Fair.

Speaking of using what’s handy…let’s look at the life of Moses. When God chose Moses to approach Pharaoh, Moses objected. He doubted that he could persuade the king of Egypt of anything.

God asked Moses, “What is that in your hand?”  It was his shepherd’s staff– his familiar, occupational tool.

What power could an ordinary staff possibly hold? Yet, God eventually used it to confirm Moses’ prophetic message and showcase His own mighty acts!

We can also ask ourselves, “What do I have in MY hand?” What has God given me that I can use for my family’s needs?

What has God given me that I can use to help someone?  Bless someone?

When we put forth our everyday supplies (however ordinary they are) God seems to add something to them.  When we offer up ourselves and our humble assets, God can do amazing things!

 

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” – Theodore Roosevelt

 

 

 

{ If I Were a Rich Girl }

fiddler-on-the-roof-samantha-massell-ben-rappaport-16
Loosely written to the tune from Fiddler on the Roof…

If I were a rich girl,

Diddle, daddle doodle dadda dadda doo…

All day long I’d biddy boddy boo

If I were a wealthy girl.

 

Wouldn’t have to work hard,

Wouldn’t have to weed or scrub or lift that heavy load of clothes

If I were a biddy boddy rich, giggle gaggle gooda gadda girl.

 

I’d have no daily challenge wondering in the pantry,

“What can be made with these two cans?”

(Instead we’d eat the food that strangers make.)

 

I’d have a good supply of LP

And wouldn’t need to hang the clothes outside,

(And never smell the breeze on sheets again.)

 

We’d buy our kids the latest t-shirts and jeans,

And not even care about the price,

Forget about those bag sale / tag sale days.

(No more finding treasures on a rack.)

 

If I were a rich girl,

Diddle, daddle doodle dadda dadda doo…

All day long I’d biddy boddy boo

If I were a wealthy girl.

 

Wouldn’t have to work hard,

Wouldn’t have to weed or scrub or lift that heavy load of clothes

If I were a biddy boddy rich, giggle gaggle gooda gadda girl.

 

We’d frequent high-class black-tie dinners and galas

And full-price movies with popcorn,

(No more stuffing my purse with snacks from home.)

 

We’d go on airplane-flying family vacations

Without a thought about the fares

(No more of those fun and free so-called “field trips.”)

 

I wouldn’t be sitting here waiting for free wifi

At the parking lot in town

We’d have unlimited access back at home.

We’d have the internet 24 / 7 and could toss non-digital games

(No more Quelf, or my favorite – Taboo!)

 

Lord, who made the lion and the lamb,

You decreed I should be what I am,

Thanks for your delightful, sovereign plan,

I’m married to my love —  (a non-rich man.)

 

My sons came home yesterday from cleaning a 34,000 square foot new home.  They told me all about the features and benefits of this amazing living space.  It made my mind start exploring the features and benefits of NOT being rich.  I am content!

{ No-Complain Campaign}

complain2My son is looking forward to winter ( 😲 ) and he wanted to find out when the nearest ski hill opens.  He scrolled and browsed, and started laughing out loud. Turns out he was reading customer reviews from last year.  One said:

“…lines were too long and too many reserved spots at chalet tables.  Mentioned this to staff but they didn’t care; they already had our money.”

stop complaining accept fate and be positive dont complain and t

It’s never funny when we are the ones complaining.  And, there is definitely a time to speak up and bring grievances effectively to the right people.

But if we could take a step back and see ourselves, our knee-jerk complaints can sound rather whiny.

shiny

In our griping, we often:

  • Assign wicked and evil motives to those who have wronged us in some way
  • Build up small slights into mountain-sized offenses

Looking inward, I see at least one thing about which I have complained over the weekend.

I complained in thought and I complained twice to friends yesterday at church.

(But…I had a smile on my face and did it somewhat creatively so that perhaps it didn’t seem like I was grumbling?)

But I was.

People complain collectively about everything, from the weather to politics to jobs to  whatever. When we make a habit of griping at home, our children catch the wave and join in.

complain1

Fussing, grumbling, and complaining are things we are trying to discourage here at home.

Instead, we are hoping that words like “thank you” become an almost involuntary response.  We would like to foster a daily regimen of gratefulness and promote an anti-moan-&-groan manifesto.

But how can that happen if Mama is (overtly or covertly) whining or moping about circumstances?

Some clear reminders for me today in God’s Word:

  • Do all things without grumbling or disputing. Philippians 2:14
  • Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. James 5:9
  • Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

Trying this week to advance a “no complain” campaign. Starting with the Mama in the mirror.