Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

(Disclaimer: I had typed this New Year's Eve, but forgot to post it. Oh Well!)

As we head out to the home of some friends to celebrate New Year's Eve, I just wanted to take a few moments to thank you for reading this quirky, little, random blog of mine. This is post number 97, so I am thinking of something I could share for my 100th blog post. Perhaps I should post a hundred thank you's to all of you who have shared this portion of the journey with me. Maybe I could post a hundred things I could be doing other than posting on this blog. :-D I might want to post a hundred random facts about myself, or I could post a hundred random facts about my husband (now that could be fun!). Perhaps I won't post anything special at all because if I were to count actual posts (including the drafts I have) I'm already over 100 entries, so I could just save myself some trouble. We'll see what happens.

Anyway, as this year comes to a close, here are a few of my thoughts:
1) I am forever grateful that the Lord has met all of my needs, be it physical, financial, spiritual, relational, or emotional. Yes, indeed, he has supplied all of my needs.
2) I am thankful for another year to love my husband and my children. I count it a privilege to be a part of their lives; it is an awesome thing to be a part in helping others become all that they can be in Christ Jesus! They also provide that very same thing for me.
3) I praise God for his ministry of reconciliation. He reconciles us to himself and to one another.
4) I would like to trust God in even bigger ways in 2008.
5) I have much to learn about in regards to being ready for the new things God wants to do in me, my family, and our church family in 2008. Remember, new wine does not go in old wineskins. Oh may we be ready for the new wine!
6) I need to work at providing healthier meals for my family. This takes time and energy, but I see it as a way to worship the Lord by caring for those He's placed in my care.
7) Let's see. I want to live my life in greater alignment with God's priorities for my life. God is already at work in this area of my life, and I thank Him for His leading and His provision.
8) I want to grow in His love and grace, and I long to pass that love and grace on to others.

I know there's more I can list, but the above is pretty all inclusive. I don't want to run the risk of being redundant! :-)

So....what are your thoughts as we bid good bye to 2007, and we welcome in 2008? I do pray that your heart is expectant as you look at the new year before you. Remember, faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.

Festive Fridays - Lessons Learned

Do they look like Christmas trees? I didn't think so! :-)

More Christmas trees! Can you guess our theme for the day?

Snack/Craft: Christmas trees made out of sugar cones, frosting, and candies.

Who's monitoring all this madness?

As promised, I will be sharing a few of the things I learned through my little Christmas project called Festive Fridays.

First of all, I must say a big thank you to my wonderful husband, Dave, for jumping on board with this idea. He and I work so well together, and I love when we are able to tackle something new like this as a team. One idea will springboard into another as we talk about what we can do. As you may have noticed, he is a great "up front" person, and I do quite well in the background making sure things are done and flowing smoothly. I was grateful for his ability to play the guitar and lead our Christmas carol singing time. I am also thankful that Dave is so open with our resources as this venture did cost us in finances, times, and our home. Dave also jumped in and helped with crafts, games, and story reading.

I am also thankful to my two older children, Hannah and Eric, for their willingness to give of their time to help with anything that needed doing. They organized games, picked up after craft time, read stories, helped with snacks, and generally, just did whatever needed to be done.

That being said, here are a couple of things I learned during Festive Fridays:

1) I needed better resources for tying it all together. It would have been nice to have the resources all in one place, but as it was, I was picking and choosing stories, games, scripture, crafts, snacks, etc... from a wide variety of sources. It all worked out great, but I have a greater appreciation for good curriculum! :-) The good news is that now I have my own curriculum of sorts to draw from for next year.

2) When it's raining outside, 18 people in my house playing a relay game is a tad too many! :-)

3) In reference to item #2, always check the weather forecast!

4) When it comes to crafts with children of various ages and abilities, easier is definitely better. :0 Also, any craft involving glue should not be done on my dining room table!

5) Speaking of crafts, using food products (or candy) in the creation of a craft calls for having extras on hand just for eating. We made advent calendars using Hershey's Kisses our first Friday together, and I overestimated a young child's ability to understand delayed gratification! Ha!

6)  This lesson I know from having children of my own, but I forgot since they are now older:  Pray fast!  Little bodies need to move!

7) I think we could have done more to focus on reaching out to others. We did collect money towards feeding hungry children, but I didn't want the children to feel pressured to give towards that as our time together was our ministry to them. However, I do think that the children would participate more fully and compassionately if we were able to help another neighbor with a project, gift, food, or money.

So there you have it - lessons I learned in putting on Festive Fridays for the kids in my neighborhood.  I'm sure if Dave were to share, he'd have more, different, lessons that I should have learned, but this isn't his blog, now, is it?!  

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Festive Fridays

I mentioned a few posts back that I had asked God to bless a humble little project that I was working on.  Now that it is over and I've learned a few things, I thought today I'd share what I felt God leading me to do this holiday season. Tomorrow, I will share what I learned. :-)

For quite a few years now, I have wanted to host a backyard VBS during the summer for our neighborhood kids.  It just makes sense to me to have a VBS in our own backyard when we have neighbor children who would come.  Why must I ask our neighbors to travel somewhere else to drop their kids off to be in a huge group of other kids they don't know when I could just have them here and we could share Christ with them and build bonds between our neighbors and their kids all at the same time?  For whatever reason, I haven't felt the time has been exactly right to try the summertime backyard VBS yet, but this fall I had what I felt to be a God-led desire to do something around the Christmas holiday.  

What grew out of that desire was a Friday afternoon event held at my house called "Festive Fridays." We invited all the neighborhood children between the ages of K - 6th grade by passing out flyers the last week of November with the following information:

Festive Fridays!
Who? Neighborhood kids ages K-6th grade 
(Jr/Sr High kids are welcome to come to help.)

What? A fun time of songs, stories, games, and crafts.

When? Fridays (11/30, 12/7, 12/14, and 12/21)
4:00 to 5:30 PM

Where? The Larson Home – XXXX Our Street

Why? To enjoy the Christmas season with our friends and to celebrate the reason for the season.

Need more info? Call Gena at XXX-XXXX or XXX-XXX

Kids, just show up and have some fun with us!

We planned each Friday around a different theme, creating games and crafts around that theme. We also read a book having to do with the theme for the day, and we sang Christmas carols, practicing for the last Friday when we would go caroling at the homes of some of our older neighbors. (I called the neighbors first, asking if it would be okay for us to come by. They were thrilled to have the kids come by to carol, many having fond memories of caroling themselves).   The children also made gifts for their parents that we wrapped the last day in hand-decorated gift bags.  

We had a blast as we built some new friendships, blessed some neighbors with carols and a gift, raised money to feed hungry children, made crafts, shared the real meaning of CHRISTmas, played some outrageous games, and basically just laughed and celebrated the season with our neighbors.

Was it a busy time? Yes! Did it get hectic at times? Yes! Did the kids have fun? Yes! Were we glad we did it? Yes! Will we do it again next year? YES! We did, however, learn a few things that we will do differently next time, and I'll be back tomorrow with lessons learned.

For now, here are a few pictures from two of our times together. Enjoy!  

By the way, pictured above is my son, Peter, whose spiritual birthday is today!  :-)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Blog Giveaway

Click on the photo below to enter a fun blog giveaway sponsored by Laced with Grace. The giveaway includes a Women of Faith study Bible (NIV/Hardcover); Lisa Whelchel’s Bible study tool for busy moms; a coffee mug from “Mugs of Truth“; the DVD “The Nativity Story“; the book “Love and Respect“; and a music CD by Becky Knight, who just released her first CD. Fun Stuff!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to you all! Posting will be sporadic as I enjoy some time with my family the next few days, and I pray you are enjoying time with your loved ones as well. In honor of Christmas, I'm posting this prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Christmas Prayer
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Loving Heavenly Father,
Help us remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.

Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts. May Christmas morning make us happy to be Thy children, and Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake.

In Thy Name We Pray,

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Food for Thought for Parents

Consider your child's request to tell him a story
or read him a book, not as an interruption, but as
the most honored invitation you will ever receive.

Robert Schuller

Full House

Well, we've just celebrated the first of our Christmases!  My dad and stepmom came to our home, along with my sisters, their husbands, and families.  We had a blast together;  the laughs, food, Wii tournaments, animal sounds, and celebrating were such a blessing to me!  I LOVE MY FAMILY!!!  Between my two sisters and myself, we have ten (count 'em, TEN) children, so it's always noisy, busy, and fun when we're together.  I am so blessed!  Dave took some pictures, so if I can get them on my computer, I'll share them.

I was able to sit down and address envelopes for my Christmas cards last night, but since I don't send Christmas cards to most of you at church (simply because it would cost WAY too much for us to send to everyone), I thought I would post our family picture that we are sending to family this year.  I'm also including the snippet of information we have included on the back of our family picture.  So, since I can't send a card to all of you, here's what your are (or are not) missing!  :-)

Lar-son – (collective noun) –David, still pastoring at New Life Christian Center where God continues to build His kingdom in powerful ways; Gena, still teaching 7th & 8th grade English and trying to manage her home and family schedules; Hannah, a senior at Turlock Christian, co-chaplain at her school and a bass-playing, harmony-singing girl; Eric, a sophomore at Turlock High School, running in cross-country and doing high and long jump in track, quite social and always good for a laugh; Peter, in sixth grade at a new visual and performing arts magnet school, an encourager by nature with a beautiful voice and musical ear; Kari, in a fourth grade G.A.T.E. class, an organizer extraordinaire with an artistic streak and a big vocabulary. (2007)

May you be blessed in the New Year
and may the miracle and gift of Christmas be your joy.

Merry Christmas!
Dave, Gena, Hannah, Eric, Peter, and Kari Larson

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 
Luke 2:12

That baby would grow up to save me from my sins so that I could be wrapped in His forgiveness and love. His birth was the greatest of gifts; a gift that would be sacrificed to meet my greatest of needs. That little cute and cuddly baby held the hope of all mankind, and he was approachable and available to all.  

Some thoughts running around in my mind:
1)  Is it possible for me to truly understand the Christmas story?
2)  Would I have surrendered to the will of God as Mary did, or would I have cared too much about my reputation?  
3)  Would the risk of losing my fiance have kept me from God's purposes for all mankind?
4)  I love the fact that Joseph was an honorable man in spite of the rumors that were certainly circulating around the village.
5)  How do you parent the son of God?  Did his wisdom as a man surpass that of his parents?  How did his parents feel about that?  Did Jesus always get to do what he wanted because Mary and Joseph knew he was the son of God?  Since he was fully human, did Jesus "push" his parents to the breaking point like my children have?

And, oh so many others!  Don't even get me started about Jesus as a man and his view/interactions with women!  That would have to be another post when I have time to actually delve into the deep questions I have asked and had answered through the years.  Just ask my husband, I am not afraid to ask some pretty hard questions in this area!  I've asked some questions Dave has never even thought of, and to be honest, he hasn't always had the answers.  I must stop myself here, or I could go on and on about my thoughts in this area.  

Do you have any questions in this area?  Are you afraid to ask them?  Have you wrestled through your questions and the hurt, anger, confusion you have experienced at the hands of less-than-godly men in your life?  I will have to start writing down some of the process I have gone through with the Lord in this area, and perhaps it will be something the Lord would allow me to share at some point.

Anyway, back to the baby this post was meant to remind us of.  I pray that you will reflect on what that newborn babe meant to the world, and what he means to you.  
Blessings at Christmas to all of you.

As a very heartfelt side note, dear friends, please know that this post about the baby Jesus is not meant to hurt those of you who have had no babies of your own, or who have struggled with infertility and/or miscarriages. I don't want to remind you of your loss or hurt you, and I want to acknowledge and honor the pain you bear. I know that in this season so many people cavalierly make comments about the baby who was born, and you can only think of the babies you haven't been blessed to hold. I, too, have known those feelings, and for those of you I know personally, I remember you and stand with you in prayer.  My love to you! 

The Angels Cried

Tonight I thought I'd share a beautiful Christmas song with you. Not having much spare time these days, I am unable to post as often as I'd like to, but I have been keeping a running list of things I'd like to post about when I have some time. I am not a fast writer (just as I'm not a fast reader), so it takes me longer than the average person to get a post written. So, I post this to keep some of you checking back in to my blog! :-)

I think this is a beautiful song, however, I do issue a warning if you don't like country music. This is a song by Alan Jackson and Allison Krauss.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Cost of Christmas

I ran across this table this morning in an email sent to me by DebtBusters. I thought it was thought provoking, and I have tried to get my children to see the real cost of things they want by translating the cost into the number of hours or the number of jobs that they would have to "work" for me to earn enough for whatever it is that they want. This really comes in handy when speaking about the cost of "designer" clothing items versus a non-designer item. :-) To be honest, brand-name clothing isn't much of an issue in my home, thank goodness, but there are items (video games, CDs, etc...) that the kids want now and again, and I think it's good if they know the real cost in time and energy it takes to earn that item. So, here's something for you to ponder:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Say What?

Well, my family's prayers have finally been answered! I have laryngitis, so I can't yell at them anymore! Actually, I'm not a yeller, but I have come to realize how much I use my voice to direct, question, guide, instruct, and make my desires known. It was really a challenge tonight at the final performance of "Behold the Lamb of God," at church. Even this morning at church, I didn't realize how often I try to "carry" conversations so that people feel at ease. When I sense people don't know what to say, or when there is an awkward silence, I will step in to make things seem more comfortable or flow more smoothly. I just couldn't do that today. Anyway, although I don't have a sore throat or much of a cough, I feel like I'm dragging. It should really be interesting at school tomorrow - a tired teacher with no voice! :-)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Behold the Lamb of God

I was blessed beyond measure tonight and felt like I was given a few holy moments to wonder anew at the story of Christ's birth. We mostly think of the birth of Christ and the events surrounding it in such a sanitized way, but the reality of these events, the holy and the raw, were beautifully portrayed this evening in this wonderful event put on by many talented and gifted individuals from our church. It was simply wonderful, and you must make plans to attend one of the last two performances (Sat. 12/15 at 7:00 PM, or Sun. 12/16 at 6:00 PM).

I sat praising God that He has given such wonderful talents to people I am privileged to be walking on this journey with. Everything I experienced tonight was a gift to me. I could never have designed or built the set; I would not be able to paint the beautiful canvases; I am unable to play any of the instruments that were used tonight; I am definitely not someone others would want to hear sing; I am not able to run a sound board or handle the audio/visual aspects of a production, BUT my great God has placed people around me that have used their abilities and gifts to bless me! It's okay that I can't do any of those things, but my life would be so much emptier if these individuals did not use their gifts to serve the Lord and the rest of us. The people that were involved in the production of "Behold the Lamb of God" sacrificed many hours and evenings to enable me to catch a new glimpse at the wonder of the birth of Christ.

Thank you to all of you that put such effort and time in to providing such a wonderful experience for the rest of our family at New Life. You used your gifts for His glory tonight, and you were a blessing to me.

The First Ornament of Christmas!

Some of you have heard of our silly little tradition of hanging the first ornament on the Christmas tree together. It was so easy when there were only a couple of us to hang onto it, but with the six of us now, it's a little more difficult. We each place our hand on the blue lamb and hang it together on the tree, and then we step back, raise our hands over our heads and say together, 'The first ornament of Christmas!" Yes, it's a little hokey, but you know what? My two teenagers still do it with us, and they even smile while they're doing it! We then take hands and pray over our Christmas season, thanking God for the gift of His son and asking Him to help us focus on Him and others instead of ourselves. Then the children get busy hanging their individual ornaments on the tree while Christmas carols play in the background.

We're a little later than usual getting our tree decorated this year, but all in good time, right? I've already had two Christmas gatherings at our home, and believe it or not, they went off just fine without a Christmas tree being up! So many times, I (like many others, I'm sure), put so many expectations on myself to have things perfect in the house, all the while sacrificing what's really important. I am making progress however, because this year it didn't bother me at all to not have our tree in and decorated before the Christmas parties we hosted. So, in one small area of my life, there is slight progress! Hey, I'll celebrate even the littlest of victories!

Anyway, this all reminded me of a poem I received a couple of years ago from my friend, Dawn Davis, in an email. Let's all just agree to give up the perfect Christmas in exchange for a love-filled Christmas; there is so much more freedom that way. I believe we so often choose to make ourselves slaves to some standard just to feel like we're good enough, rich enough, stylish enough, whatever enough, that we are not choosing God's better gifts of love and peace.

May we all have a 1 Corinthians Style Christmas!

Christmas 1 Corinthians 13 Style

- author unknown

If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home, and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir's cantata, but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child.

Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.

Love is kind, though harried and tired.

Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way.

Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who can't.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust ... but giving the gift of love will endure.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia! :-)

Your Christmas is Most Like: A Very Brady Christmas

For you, it's all about sharing times with family.
Even if you all get a bit cheesy at times.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Precious and True

This was sent to me by a friend; perhaps you've seen it already, but if not, it's worth a couple of minutes.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

A Different Seat

I sat in church this morning and felt a little disoriented for a while.  You see, a friend that I worked with some 20+ years ago showed up by herself, so I sat with her in the center section, three rows back.  As you know, I always sit in the first row with Dave, but it's not my first choice of where I would want to sit if my husband wasn't the pastor.  When we first came to New Life, Dave would play the piano with the worship team besides speaking on Sunday mornings, so that meant he was on stage the whole morning.  This was great for me in some respects because I was free to sit anywhere I wanted.  I would sit in a different place each service, and I was able to meet and connect with different people each week.  Once David wasn't needed on the worship team any longer (which took quite a load off of him), he began sitting in the front row on the left hand side of the main auditorium.  I didn't even think to sit with him at first, but I began to realize that it might look like we were in an argument or something if we didn't sit together.  So began my front row sitting days.  :-)

So, when sitting in the third row with my friend today, I experienced the worship service from a slightly different angle, and I LOVED IT!  I think everyone should sit at different places around the auditorium every once in while just for a change of pace.  I sat looking at the wonderful Christmas set, praising God for all of the talented and selfless people who gave of their time and energy to put it all together.  I loved the rustic, natural, and simplistic look of the set filled with plenty of lit pine trees and a rough-hewn stable of sorts, along with the beautifully painted canvases of a night sky spotlighted with blue lights.   I am blessed to be a part of such a creative church body.

This afternoon, David and I visited for a few hours with a woman from our church who has just lost her husband.  We had a wonderful time listening to her memories and learning more about her life.  I have always had a special place in my heart for this fun, feisty, and God-filled woman, and after learning a few new things about her, I admire her even more.  It will be a hard adjustment for her to learn to navigate life without her lifelong love, but she knows that even though it won't be easy, God will be with her.

David and I also had our board members and their spouses over for dessert this evening to let them know how very thankful we are for their faithful service and Godly example.  Although there were some that were not able to make it, we had a fantastic time of visiting, praying, and celebrating God's provision and vision for us at New Life.  We were so very grateful God has allowed us to serve under such Godly leadership; we are blessed.

It's been a busy day, but I sit here this evening filled with gratitude for all that God has done and is doing.  I loved the verse of a song we sang this morning which said, "Not to us, but to Your name be the glory."  Yes, all glory belongs to Him!

(The photo used in today's blog post is not of our church, so don't get confused; it's just a representative photo.  GL)