The Eclectic Nativity Set

I’ve been a little lazy about Christmas this year. I did most of my shopping on the Internet (something I’ve sworn off of in the past). I delegated all the wrapping to our oldest daughter who seemed to actually enjoy it. I let the girls do most of the decorating this year too. We’re leaving for Ontario to celebrate with my family and it just seemed like too much work to put up a tree, let alone, to ‘deck the halls’. I’ve been rather ambivalent about the whole thing. (That’s the gentle way of saying I’ve really been a party-pooper and a grouchy Grinch.)

And so in a spirit of half-heartedness and efficiency (‘let’s just get this over with!’) I decided not to set out all the nativity sets I have. Rather I grabbed bits and pieces from each of them and put them together. I set out the wise men from our Ethiopian set, the shepherds from India. There was another lone shepherd with his sheep that I swiped from the Playmobile Nativity, I suspect he was from Europe. Mary and Joseph came from a Bolivian Nativity I’ve had since I was in college and the baby Jesus was hand made by our youngest daughter Bronwynn when she was 6 or 7.

Something happened in my heart as I set out this motley crew of international delegates to the Holy Nativity. I felt a worshipful shift in my spirit. Slowly I lowered the handmade angel off to thimg_5211e side. Balding and heavy bottomed this angel is full of joy. I think I felt a little of the “radiance of the Lord’s glory surround” me. As frightening and disturbing as this year has been I knew the reassurance of the angel’s message: “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior, the Rescuer, the Lord is here!”

With tears in my eyes I stood back from the scene. I shook my head at how silly a Nativity set really is. In no way does the plastic, or clay, or wood capture the chaos of that long ago holy night. It was earthy and bloody and noisy and messy. God became flesh. Grace and Light and Life were embodied and Mary, “wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger.”

It brought me such joy to see representatives from three or four countries and continents surround the manger at this commemoration of the first Advent. The Ethiopians tall and proud, the Indians colourful and exuberant, the Bolivian couple sincere, the lone European shepherd stiffly holding his lantern.

I imagined the glories of the second Advent where people will gather from every corner of the globe. Picture it! Every language will be buzzing, every tribe will have someone there, even the remote places will be represented. Some from every nation and every race will come. People from every background will gather. It will be a huge crazy crowd! And Christ, having long since outgrown his manger bed will be seated on a throne, our crowned and glorious King. We will fall on our faces before him and worship,

Oh, Yes!
The blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving,
The honor and power and strength,
Belong to our God forever and ever and ever!
Oh, Yes!

I pulled the clay figurine of Mary closer to the manger. I scooted the plastic sheep back a little. Maybe it was the light from the tiny plastic lantern, but as I stepped away from my Nativity, things seemed a little brighter and hope seemed a little clearer.

(Scriptures referenced from Luke 2:8-14 and Rev 7:9-12).

When the Elephant in the Room is Bigger than the Turkey on the Table!

We here at Communicating Across Boundaries know that this might very well be an awkward holiday season for all of us. Families divided must now come back together around the Thanksgiving table. What on earth are we going to talk about? Here are a few suggestions to promote pre-Christmas “Peace on Earth” and “Goodwill toward all men.”

*Talk about the weather! Here in Kansas the weather changes frequently. That allows you the opportunity to go back and talk about it again and again throughout the day. If the weather in your part of the world is more stagnant I invite you to talk about the weather in Kansas!

*Talk about sports! I personally don’t know how to talk about sports very well but usually if you insert, “So…how about those Royals?”, into the conversation, something will take off. Every once in a while you can nod and exclaim, “Yeah!” with authority and a suitable degree of incredulity. (Feel free to insert whatever local team you’ve heard batted around in your part of the world).

*Talk about other Thanksgivings. Remember the time 67 wild turkeys crossed the yard on Thanksgiving Day all those years ago? Remember the time my sister in law and I both brought the same cheesy corn casserole but everyone liked hers better? Remember last Thanksgiving–when everyone came from all over the world? That was such a special holiday.

*Talk about T.V. Has anyone seen anything good on TV lately? Try not to reference reality TV shows as someone might accidentally start talking about the conversation we’re all trying to avoid: Politics!

*Talk about TV in the “olden” days. What show did you use to watch when you were a kid? What time of day did it come on? Who did you watch it with?

*Talk about tattoos. I mean it can’t hurt! If you could get any tattoo what would you get?

*Talk about weird or interesting talents. My husband Lowell can play a recorder with his nose. I can pack a mean suitcase. One of our daughters can impersonate Julia Andrews, the other can swing the hula hoop remarkably well. Our son Connor can talk like Goofy—it’s pretty obnoxious-but it an interesting or weird talent.

*If they were going to make a movie of your life who would they get to play you? This always gets people going in pretty harmless ways!

*What’s the strangest or scariest restaurant you’ve ever eaten at? Why did you go there?

*Talk about Bucket Lists (Unless you’ve got family that are close to kicking their bucket—that might be too morbid!) –What do you still have on yours? Have you crossed anything off recently?

*Talk Thanksgiving Trivia. I hate trivia games. My brain wasn’t wired for them but they do take up conversational space and there are some in our family who are actually quite good at remembering useless bits of information!

            Who was president when Thanksgiving became an annual holiday? (Abraham Lincoln)

            In what year did the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade become a thing? (1924)

            (Skip this one if it’s too close to a political theme!) Which President was the first to give the Thanksgiving turkey an official pardon? (Ronald Reagan)

            What are Turkey chicks called? (Pults or Turkeylings)

            In what year did the green bean casserole first appear on the scene? (1955)

            During Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving / harvest festival, they traditionally eat a stuffed food but it isn’t a turkey. What food do Koreans stuff and eat during Chuseok? (Rice pastry dumplings)

            Where is the only place in Australia where Thanksgiving is celebrated? (Norfolk Island)

            Who do children in Japan give drawings to on Labor Thanksgiving Day? (Police Stations)

*Talk about Thanksgiving! Talk out loud about the things you are thankful for. Acknowledge one another with gratitude. Tell each other about the tiny and the tall blessings you’ve been given. Practice being thankful!

 

We here at Communicating Across Boundaries wish you a Thanksgiving marked by sincere gratitude and deep hope.

 

 

*If you’re still struggling to think what to talk about there are countless websites with conversation starters. Who knew?

http://conversationstartersworld.com/250-conversation-starters/

http://www.popsugar.com/smart-living/Easy-Conversation-Starters-34313495

http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/tag/ages-14-100

**Photo credit goes to Bronzi!

Summer Fun Ideas that Promote Sanity and Potentially a Wider View of the World

These are ideas for (mostly) free stuff that can happen anywhere in the world. Teenage daughters should take note.

Go for a walk.

Create a scavenger hunt in your house, backyard or courtyard.

Make playdoh. Play with playdoh.

Brainstorm strange flavours of pancakes…make the top three strangest even if it means making up the recipes!

Make window paint. Paint on the windows!

Bubble bath!

Plan an at home spa day: make fancy drinks, give massages, do manicures and pedicures, put cucumber slices on your eyes, make homemade facial masks.

Go camping in your living room, or backyard, or courtyard!

Go for a picnic!

Make cards or postcards. Mail them to someone who might need a burst of joy!

Colour or paint.

Have ice cream Sundaes for supper.

Choose books to read that are written by International authors.            http://www.nypl.org/blog/2014/07/22/around-world-childrens-books

Work on a puzzle. (Puzzles can be expensive…but I buy them at thrift stores or garage sales. It’s true you don’t know if all the pieces are there but you’ll never know unless you do the puzzle!)

Watch an old western TV show or a Bollywood movie without the sound. Choose characters and dream up the dialogue as you go!

Play a board game but not monopoly. Monopoly causes family drama. Every time. These days we like Ticket to Ride, Forbidden Island, Pandemic, Probe.

Sidewalk chalk art!

Visit a pet store and pretend it’s a zoo!

Start a family book club: Each person share for 10 minutes about the book they’re reading. Serve cheese and crackers and lemon squash!

Have a water fight –with squirt guns or water balloons or spritzer bottles.

Throw a party—just because! Blow up balloons, hang paper chains or streamers, mix      juice with sprite and pour it in fancy glasses, invite friends over! Play silly party games (pin the tail on the monkey, upset the fruit basket, charades).

Create a fitness challenge in your front yard! Pull out the timer and see who can get            through it fastest, with their eyes closed, with their arms behind their backs, on one foot etc.

Make cookies or brownies with a secret ingredient!

Turn on some classical music and take turns telling the story of the movie the music            is a sound track for.

Pretend you’re a tourist in your own town. Go on a walking tour of a part of town you’ve never been to before. Try a local restaurant you’ve never tried.

Find a new recipe for an odd or interesting snack. Make it!

Set up paints and paper and watch an episode of Sister Wendy on DVD or on Youtube –A TCK in her own right.

Hand each kid a roll of masking tape—send them outside for an hour to see what they might make!

Read aloud from a really good book!

Try some games that kids in other countries play. Google it! There are tons of ideas out there. Here’s a simple spot to start if you have younger kids:    http://beafunmum.com/2012/11/games-from-around-the-world/

Create a new beverage! What would chai mixed with lemonade be like? Or Orange Fanta with orange sherbet?

Make a pillow fort. Make a really big pillow fort!

Pull out the scissors, construction paper, a pile of old newspapers or magazines and             the glue: Collage!!

Visit an international food store. Choose a snack from some place faraway that you’ve never had before!

Visit the Aquarium Supply Store near you and look at the fish.

Hang a white sheet from the side of your house or garage and use a projector to watch a movie. Make popcorn. Serve root beer floats.

Geocaching—see if that’s a thing where you live. Try it with friends or family.

Borrow kayaks or canoes from friends and explore waterways near you.

Presuming someone in your family has a smart phone have a selfie competition. Make a duck face, a sad face, a I’ve just lost my pet face, an ecstatic face, an oh no my ice cream is melting face.

Play Chopped or Cupcake Wars at home in your own kitchen.

Pick a country—plan a pretend trip there. Research where you’d go, where you’d stay, how you’d get there. Rent or download a movie that features that country. Check out books from the library about it. Make a meal or a snack from that country (google it!). Do you know someone from that place or someone that’s been there? Invite them over and ask them to tell you about it.

Climb a tree.

Fly a kite.

Visit your local zoo.

Get multiple copies of a one act play. Or make copies of a segment from  Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Host a reader’s theatre complete with props and costumes.

Sit down as a family with a very large piece of butcher-block paper. Make a family history timeline.

Invite friends over for a joke telling night. Each guest brings their best ice cream topping and their best joke. Dish up the ice cream and prepare for the belly laughs.

With the help of YouTube learn a Bollywood dance!

Sit down with a stack of thank you cards. Think of random people that live thankless   lives. Send them a card. Do this with a friend or with your family.

Set up a lemonade stand. Use the money you make to do something frivolous as a family.

Get out a map. Pick a place within a 50 mile/100 kilometer radius. Go for a drive.

 

Explore this town or place as a tourist might. Take pictures.

About Mother’s Day – aka Holidays Out of Control

Of all the negative traits of capitalism, the co-opting of holidays is one of the most insidious and destructive to our bank accounts and our relationships. 

It’s almost mother’s day – and what was started in the United States during Civil War days to bring honor to a mother deeply loved by her daughter has become a day that causes bitterness, strife, guilt, and all the things that mothers hate so much. Articles circulate the World Wide Web applauding moms as the jewels of the planet or rebuking pastors about not making those who are not moms feel bad.

It is all exhausting

A woman named Anna Jarvis started this holiday. During the civil war she worked hard to promote peace between moms on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, women with either Confederate or Union loyalties, recognizing that they had far more in common then they disagreed on. She loved her own mom deeply and grieved when she died, working to commemorate her by promoting a day to honor mothers. Although it took several years she pushed the idea through to Congress and in 1914 the first official Mother’s Day was recognized, signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson.

Jarvis would later be enraged at the commercialism of the holiday, throwing a “Mother’s Day Salad” onto the floor of a restaurant and walking out in disgust as well as trying to rescind the holiday.[Source-The Founder of Mother’s Day Later Fought to Have It Abolished http://shar.es/Sy61D ]

Her beloved idea had spiraled out of control and she was appalled. Her idea of the holiday was “a visit home or writing a long letter to your mother.” She is quoted as saying “A maudlin, insincere printed card or ready-made telegram means nothing except that you’re too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone else in the world.”

Let me be clear: I love holidays as much as anybody. I love family, I love getting together, I love tradition. And I love being honored on Mother’s Day.

I also love mothers – a spot soft as velvet is in my heart for mothers everywhere. We have been gifted with so much but there is a cost.

What I don’t love is what we have done with holidays, turning them – all of them, not just Mother’s Day — into opportunities to spend money, times where we feel guilt, experiences where we are left with a sense of inadequacy or inability to do things “right.”, times of mourning our singleness or grieving our losses.

I didn’t grow up under the shadow of Hallmark. There were no card stores in Pakistan and no television shouting at me that “if he loved me he would go to Jared’s”. No stores did campaigns of pink or blue and there were no florist’s shops – just street hawkers with their glorious Irises and Day Lilies sold on the mall of the town of Murree. I feel fortunate that my formative years were free of these images.

Despite this, I have become a product of the society where I currently live and it is sometimes terrifying.

I don’t want to be that mom that imagines her children don’t love her because they forget a card or a phone call. I don’t want to be that person that spends money she doesn’t have to get things other don’t need because of advertising that excels in digging into the human psyche and finding the cracks in our well-oiled armor. I don’t want my holidays and traditions to be characterized by green and red M&M’s and bunny rabbits; by large pink “Remember Your Mom” posters and guilt-ridden stress; by silver hearts from Jared’s and kisses beginning with Kay; by Hollywood and Hallmark telling me what my family, my marriage, my love, and my Mother’s Day should look like.

I want to own my holidays – I don’t want my holidays to own me. 

How can we take back what has been strategically taken from us? How can we reshape our thinking and our expectations so that the goal becomes fun memories and healthy interactions , holidays reconstructed with less money, less stuff, fewer expectations and ultimately more fun?

Can we be brave enough to live counter-culture, set our own agenda our own traditions? Can we turn off the television with its brilliant messaging that tells us how we are supposed to celebrate, that lures us in with soft porn Victoria’s Secret ads and super glossy symbols of false love ? Can we turn down our hearing aids so we are not affected by the insidious words that tell us “this – this is how it’s supposed to be – and it it isn’t then something is wrong?”

I for one want to live free of the bondage of false images and expectations and reclaim my holidays, my relationships, and my money. Is any one else in ? 

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On #GivingTuesday – Will I Follow a Star or a Mannequin?

I belong to the early morning crowd. The group that gets up at 5 and is fully functioning by 6:45. The group that is still mostly groggy while on public transit. I used to hate the silence of this group, feel alienated that everyone was in their own world in these early mornings.

Now I understand it. Now I love it. Early mornings are my best thought time. And today my thoughts are caught between the now and the eternal.

Shops began decorating for the Christmas season before Thanksgiving and now are in their full array of colors and products, golds, greens, and reds – the sparkles interrupted only by yellow “On Sale” tags. The stuff beckons. It’s so pretty. It’s got glitter and glam. It says “Buy me, you need me.” The faceless mannequins in the window dare me to refuse, beckon me with their androgynous sophistication decked in sweaters, tights, scarves, and jewelry.

But beyond the mannequins is a lighted star, placed high above the street by the city of Boston. It’s the promise of Christmas reminding me of a birth, of men who were searching for a Saviour, of an event that changed our calendar forever.

I’m struck once again by the constant battle of the now and the eternal. Beyond every mannequin is a star, promising so much more. But the mannequin is on eye level. And to see the star I have to look up.

Today, following the black of Friday and the cyber of Monday, is designated #givingTuesday. A nation needing to ease its conscience? Perhaps. But important none the less. It’s the star beyond the mannequin. The reminder that there is more to the season than the material, more to life then what we see now.

I know that you as readers have priorities of where you give and how you give. I still want to talk about two areas that are dear to my heart. The first is the problem of fistula. I’ve talked before about this problem, about how a surgery costing $450 gives hope and a new life. Hope for Our Sisters is tireless in their ongoing work to bring attention to this problem. Brooke Sulahian – the president of this non-profit organization, has a vision and mission to bring hope to women with fistula. Your donation will not be lost in a pot of money or go to a CEO whose salary is more than many will make in a lifetime of working. Your money will go towards providing the surgery needed to restore health for the woman with fistula. The link below will take you to the website where you can easily make a donation online. Alternately they accept checks.

Donate to Hope for our Sisters

The second area that is dear to my heart is the ongoing refugee crisis in Syria. Many of you know that my husband had the opportunity to go to Gazientep, Turkey earlier this fall. It included a trip across the border into Syria and visiting a refugee camp in “No Man’s Land” between Turkey and Syria. This camp has no running water and no latrines. At last count, the population of the camp was 14,000 people, primarily women and children. There are a couple of ways you can help. The first is through making kits – hygiene, baby, education – I wrote about it here. The link to instructions for making these kits is below. There are so many ways to do this that both celebrate the season as well as move us into action. Have people over for cocoa and Christmas cookies, with a side-helping of emergency kits.

Make Emergency Kits for Syrian Refugees

Another way to give toward the refugee crisis is through Conscience International. Conscience International has been involved in humanitarian aid for over 20 years. This group supplies medicines and relief goods to refugees through a direct network with miniscule overhead costs. Your donation will help provide medicine for Syrian refugee children in Turkey, food for urban refugees in Lebanon, and blankets and hygiene kits for Syrian refugee families in Jordan.

Donate to Conscience International

There are thousands of other areas where your heart may be led to give – I offer the suggestions above because they are the things that grab my heart, as well as being organizations that are small with little overhead and a huge volunteer base for the work they do. The main thing is this:

When we see the mannequin, that faceless, bedazzled mannequin that beckons so insistently, may our Advent prayer be to look up and beyond to the star. 

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Take Off Your Heels and Stay Awhile!


“Mom, you have your heels off!” this from my daughter. She turned to her friend “That means my mom is really relaxed. She usually has her shoes on.”

It’s true. Practically the minute I get out of bed I put my shoes on. It’s a thing I do. I have to be ready for what comes my way, for the day.

Having my heels on says “She’s ready. She’s armed. She can do this thing called life!”

And my kids have realized this: Mom rarely takes her heels off – there’s always something to do, somewhere to be, something to think.

But right now I have my heels off. I have taken off my heavy backpack, kicked off my trusty ‘buy one get one half off’ Payless heels that take me through the streets of Boston, from home to work to church to people. I have a son and daughter-in-law visiting and time away from work. There is time to rest and read; time for long, sunset walks and sleeping in, time to reflect and pray.

A time to remember my “God-given desire for the Divine”.

Taking off our heels and staying awhile is a gift and I know that. I will cherish this and soak in the moments.

So this weekend, whereever you are – I hope you can take off your heels and stay awhile.

O Lord Jesus Christ, open Thou the eyes of my heart, that I may hear Thy word and understand and do Thy Will, for I am but a sojourner upon the earth- St John Chrysostom

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Who Do You Want to Like You When You’re Eighty?

New YorkWith fireworks and champagne or sparkling grape juice (depending on your preference) my guess is you ushered in 2013 with a celebration. The obligatory kiss caught on camera  in New York City, the ball dropping, the “Happy New Year'” heard around the world – they all come in with pops and bangs, with excited anticipation.

And now, it’s New Years Day – the beginning of 2013. Undoubtedly social media sites, newspapers, and the blogosphere have already begun to inundate you with messages on what you want this year to mean, what goals you may have, what movies you should watch for.

Some of these messages may be meaningful: some may urge you to pick a word for the year – let’s say it’s gratitude, and live out that word; others might encourage you to set spiritual, vocational, physical goals.

But I’m not going to do that.

I’m going to give you one question by which to make decisions. If I was really holy, I would give you something about God and I hope you all know how much I love Him….but no, I’m giving you a different question, one that has served me well for years.

Who do you want to like you when you’re eighty?

In bold italics I write it.

It’s a serious question this one. Who, really, do you want to like you when you’re eighty? 

Your boss? Your work? Your book club? Your colleagues? Your hairdresser?

Make the list. Make it twice. And before you make a decision, particularly about work, ask yourself who you want to like you when you’re eighty. There are several times where I’ve come to a crossroad in my life, a point where work and home seem to conflict with each other, where work wants to crowd out that which is important to me. And though I pray and seek guidance sometimes it’s the practical question that gives the greatest clarity.

The choice sometimes feels unfairly weighted. On the one side is money, affirmation, yearly raises, a well-crafted resume. On the other, depending on the year, it can feel like doing needle point – taking painstaking care to get the stitches right, but knowing I won’t see the full picture, the results of the careful stitching, for a long time.

But in all of this, asking this question has never failed me.

And with that I’ll sign off and wish you a New Year filled with blessing, filled with Grace for what comes, filled with knowing more about this God who is “completely trustworthy and utterly unpredictable.”

And those of you who are older “of a more mature age” – What question would you encourage us to ask ourselves? Please share through comments!