Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night!

Nothing about this Christmas season has gone at all like I had it pictured. Some years are just like that, I guess. At least that's what I'm telling myself. I didn't make any toffee or molasses crinkles for my neighbors; I didn't get any Christmas cards out; we didn't go to look at lights; we didn't read a different Christmas picture book each night; we haven't taken a Christmas picture (yet). I simply don't know where the time went, but well......here it is Christmas Eve already, so I don't know that there is much I can do about those things (except maybe the picture of the fam in front of our Christmas tree).

So, all I can simply do at this point in the season is to wish those who stop by here a Merry Christmas and a new year filled with His peace and joy.

Blessings to you all,
Gena

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Grief Revisited

I am always quick to share what a blessing, privilege, responsibility, and joy it is to be called to serve as pastors.  And I am so grateful for the grace-giving churches in which the Lord has allowed us to serve.  God is so good.

However, sometimes in ministry, there are roads that we are asked to walk alone.  (Loneliness is the number one issue pastor's and their wives say they struggle with.)  There are hard paths upon which the Lord allows us to walk so that we can truly experience the truth that HE is enough and HE understands, even though someone else may not.   There are lessons to be learned, fears to be faced,  character flaws to be recognized and acknowledged,  growth to be experienced, and truth, forgiveness, and grace to be learned in the process.  

I am not saying that all the paths we find ourselves on are God's will because we are sinful people living in a sinful world, and we simply cannot control what other people choose.  Sometimes in ministry, we simply find ourselves on a path that we do not want to be on.  However, I believe that God can redeem absolutely everything in our lives, and sometimes (probably most often) that redemption is a process that takes place over time, not in the blink of a tear-filled eye.

Today, circumstances allowed me to come face to face with a grief that I am unable to share.  It is a grief that I have experienced over a period of years, and although I have seen the Lord work greatly in me through this grief, it is still there.  Today's situation allowed the depth of that grief to again bubble up.  I don't think that's a bad thing, but it is a hard thing.  In fact, I would go so far as to say the circumstance today was a gift in an odd sort of way.  It was a gift to again acknowledge how much this "thing" meant to me.  I think grief is the truest expression of how much we have loved and maybe today, I just needed to be reminded of that love.
.  

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Inspiring Ideas

In the midst of the busy holiday season, I am always grateful for ideas to keep focused on the true meaning of the season.  It's the simple things - reading a Christmas story with the kids, stringing popcorn, sipping hot cocoa, looking at the lights - that are most remembered by us and our kids, and those are the things we'll want our children to do with their children some day.  

Today, I ran across a great idea in one of the blogs I visit (I don't take the time to actually go to all these blogs, I subscribe to them in an RSS feed), and I thought I'd give you the blog address so that you can be blessed also.

Inspiring Ideas is a great little blog and I think you'll enjoy it.  Jeanne Winters (blog author) has a new line at Hallmark, and since I'm a Hallmark junkie, I've already seen her stuff - simple and sweet.  Be sure to visit her blog, wouldja?


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Telegraph Fire Update

Last post, I shared that my youngest kiddo likes to take pictures, and truthfully, it's a good thing.  I often forget to photograph things or events because, well, I'm just like that - forgetful!  Anyway, as I shared here and here this summer, the Telegraph Fire was burning furiously through the area of my family's property.  The CDF saved our structures and the hilltop where our trailers are located, so when we were there on Thanksgiving, it was hard to believe that there was ever a fire.  However, just about everywhere else was massive evidence of the destructive fire that came through.  And........our young family photographer snapped some pictures of the aftermath including the areas where the CDF just plowed over everything to make fire breaks.  I thought I'd share some of those with you today.






The one thing that she didn't get a picture of was the manzanita bushes at the top of the hill that are blackened and stripped bare by the fire.  They are beautiful in an eery sort of way.  Their black, bare, up-reaching arms were silhouetted against the gorgeous blue sky.  

One upside of the fire?  We are able to see Half Dome from the top of our property.  Beautiful!

I pray that in the midst of this holy season you are able to take a few quiet moments to focus on the wonder of the season - God of the universe coming to us in flesh and blood - to be with us.  God with us.   GOD WITH US.  I thought about that phrase over and over this morning as I sat looking at our Christmas tree during my quiet time.  God with us!  Wow, if that doesn't cause us to stop, ponder, and be thankful, not much will.

Blessings. 

Random Pictures

My husband continually assures me that digital photos are great, and I'm sure he's right. I'm just an old fashioned kind of girl in this respect and I love having actual photos to put my hands on. It makes me less afraid that I'm going to lose (or more realistically forget) what pictures we have. But there are a couple of things I enjoy about digital photos - the ability to delete photos that don't turn out rather than paying to have them developed and seeing the unexpected random pictures that someone (most often my youngest daughter who wants to be a photographer when she grows up) has snapped.

I just downloaded some photos from Thanksgiving weekend, and here a few of the unexpected photos I discovered:
A picture of the centerpiece, which was a great idea!
A artistic level view of the centerpiece and table.
A great close-up if you ask me!
And we mustn't forget about the salt and pepper! 
The little details, such as a golden ribbon around the sparkling cider, make for a beautiful fall table.

By the way, one of the blogs that I enjoy reading is "The Reluctant Entertainer."  Sandy (the author of the RE blog which is celebrating its 300th post) photographs some of her dinner parties, so perhaps my youngest daughter is taking after her.  I read Reluctant Entertainer because one of my yearly resolutions is to have more people over to our home, and Sandy helps to remind me that it's not about having the perfectly clean house and table settings, but about opening your heart to others and loving them where they are.  A great goal for all of us, don't you think?


Friday, December 12, 2008

Coffee Moms

I had the best time tonight with some of my friends. When our kids are on track, we meet for coffee on Monday mornings, and truthfully, it's always a day brightener to spend some time with them all. Anyway, tonight was our Christmas get-together and we laughed, we ate, we shared, and we laughed some more. One mom bought us all Starbucks ornaments that we all then signed to take home. A truly great time.

It's getting crazy again around here! I'm off to UCSF tomorrow with Dave's sister and will be gone all day. Saturday holds a basketball game, making our gifts for the staff, and celebrating Christmas with Dave's family because his sister, brother-in-law, and nephew are here from Portland. (By the way, our nephew, Hugo, is the cutest little guy, and we sure wish we could see him more often!) And on Sunday, I'll be at church for first service, at a meeting during second service, and then our staff Christmas dinner and dessert which will be at our home. (Of course, the staff Christmas party ends with the infamous white elephant gift exchange!) It's all good even though it's so busy. I somehow need to find time to finish the gifts we're making, write out cards for all of the staff, grocery shop and cook my items for the family Christmas, wrap Christmas gifts needed for Saturday, clean the house, and get the desserts ready for the staff party. No problem-O, right?

By the way, come back soon to see one of the Larson family's holiday traditions.

Blessings!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Behold the Lamb of God/Servolution 2009


Today, I'm posting some links for you to visit.  The first is for the beautiful, poignant, and memorable event that our church is providing for our community.  It is called, "Behold the Lamb of God - The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ."  Click on the link (the title) and you'll be directed to the website that gives more information, including video clips from last year's production.  The thing I heard over and over from those who attended last year is that 1) if they had known how beautiful and terrific the production was, they would have invited everyone they knew to attend, and 2) "Wow!  I don't know what to say."  That's how good it was - really.  You can see my post from last year with my comments HERE.  In fact, here's an anonymous comment from someone who read that post: "Anonymous said...`What an amazing evening....such talent! I brought a friend along, and she was moved to tears more than once. On the way home she asked if she could come to church with me sometime! I think I'll be back Sunday evening.....maybe bring another friend!"  That's the best kind of endorsement - non-solicited and genuine.  Invite everyone you know to come with you to the Turlock Community Auditorium to experience this event on December 20 and 21.  You'll be glad you did, and I'm not just saying that!  

Another link for you to visit is the Servolution website.  Now, not all the information is up yet for this year's event, but believe me, you'll want to mark your calendar for May 9, 2009!  I also posted about last year's first ever Servolution and you can check it out HERE.  A commenter on that post said, "That was the most amazing day....this is the most amazing picture.....And we have the most amazing God......He is so working in this most amazing church family....
What amazing hearts there are to serve the Lord.....I feel as though the church is going to bust at the seams to make more room to grow!!!!!! You can absolutely feel the Love!!!!"   

Want to see what it's all about?  Watch this:


Wow!  Don't you want to be a part of that?  Last year was just the beginning; we will step out to serve our community in even bigger ways this year!  I'm so excited, and you'll love hearing all that we'll be doing.  I will be posting more about this event in the future, but for now......just mark your calendars so that you will be free to serve along with us on May 9th!

So, get ready!  There's lots of good stuff coming up and you don't want to miss it!

God, you are REALLY something!  Thank you for the many ways in which you are working, and thank you for opening up our eyes to see all that you are doing.  We stand in awe.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

"Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise; be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good..."
Psalm 100:4, 5a

For the Lord is good.....

He gives me life and each breath I take; I will be thankful.
He has provided the one and only way for me to be forgiven and saved; I will give him praise.
He has given me a loving and self-sacrificing husband; I give God thanks for this undeserved gift.
The Lord has blessed me with four wonderful, miraculous children; I praise Him and ask for His wisdom in raising them to know Him.
He has surrounded me with loving family and friends; I am thankful beyond measure.

For this and so much more (so very much more), I enter His presence with thanksgiving and praise. I am thankful unto Him, and I bless His name. Yes, the LORD, the LORD, is good.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Red House - Finale!

Today is our last visit to the Red House. (Scroll down for previous posts.) Not only did we cuddle up in the house with it's cozy corners and fluffy warm down comforters, but there was plenty of beauty and fun things to do outside.

First of all, doesn't this picture just make you want to take a deep breath? I can imagine many a summer evening out in those lovely white chairs.
This lovely, little place is called, "The Mouse House" not because it houses mice, but because it is small. It is basically a studio apartment on the property. Another couple in ministry (from Mariposa) was staying here. The overhang is covered with climbing roses and I'm sure it is absolutely beautiful at the right time of year.
Now, this may look like an old, forlorn barn, but there is a sliding door on the left hand side that is barely noticeable, and when it is opened up, it reveals a thoroughly modern entertainment area (concrete floors, kitchen, bathrooms, skylights, artwork, plenty of seating, etc...). The family hosts big events for youth with YWAM and their church, so they created this great space.
One of the fun activities for the kids was riding this zip line.

There was also a tennis court with a cabinet that housed tennis rackets, an assortment of sports balls, and lots of roller blades in just about every size. There was even plenty of safety equipment for the kiddos to wear.
And of course, the trampoline was a big hit. :-)

I hope you enjoyed visiting this special place with me. Our visit there was a great time and we're thankful for this wonderful family's love and generosity. It was just what we needed!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Red House - Part 4

(If you want to see the previous three entries, just scroll down the page)

Today, we'll look at some unusual aspects of this lovely and cozy home. Art and scripture are important to this family, and you'll discover that in these next few pictures.

The artwork below was painted by a family member. If you look closely, you'll see the scripture verse written in a curving line around the fruit. Beautiful!

Below is a picture of a carved scripture mounted in the mud room as you enter the house. It is definitely hand done, but since it is not signed, I don't know if a family member made it.
The following picture was actually inside a closet/passageway between two of the bedrooms. It is a charming and sweet surprise to come upon.
In the laundry room, there is this hand-painted artwork and scripture which serves as a good reminder.
And truthfully, this was one of my favorites. It is a picture drawn by one of the owners' grandsons. I'm not sure if the picture is of the owner or his son (Mattias's father), but it melts my heart and makes me smile. Isn't it priceless?
Tomorrow will be my last post on The Red House. Be sure to stop by to see what we found outside! You'll love it!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Red House - Part Three

Today we continue with our little tour.  (Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE) Even with no electronic devices (computers, TV's, iPods, etc...), this place was filled with fun things to do.  It seems that the family that owns this old farmhouse/guesthouse values one of the things that we do: reading!  They have built in a little reading nook above the upstairs to the second story, and Kari (after her Daddy climbed on it to assure her that it was safe), climbed up to this cozy corner to read.
Peter also found a place to plant himself with his book:
And there was no shortage of reading material available.  Just take a look at the bookcases in this one guesthouse:
Number 1

Number 2 and 2 1/2 
Number 3
Number 4
Number 5
And finally, Number 6 (not to mention to books contained in the bookcase portion of the secretary in the living room).
There were so many great books to choose from that it was difficult to narrow it down to which ones we wanted read or at least look through.  I started one bood that really captured my interest, but there was no way I could finish it in the amount of time that we were there.  I'll have to see if I can find it somewhere else so that I can truly read it.

What will we find in The Red House tour tomorrow?


Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Red House - Part Two

Yesterday, I began our little tour of the Red House.  This house was built in the late 1800's and has had a very few updates since then.  Most of the modern conveniences were there (stove, refrigerator, microwave, indoor toilet, running water, washer/dryer, a wood stove, and electricity).  Missing was a phone, a TV, a computer, or a radio.   Bliss, I tell you!   Oh, and there wasn't a dishwasher which made my youngest very happy because she loved washing the dishes by hand.  Too bad that doesn't carry over to home!  And talk about clean; I couldn't find one spot of dust in the entire place!  They continue to take such good care of the house.  Today's tour will show you some of the inside of the house.
So, here's part of the kitchen: 
The living room:
One of the kid's rooms upstairs (all beds had down comforters in fresh duvet covers, along with flannel sheets- oh so comfy in a house heated only with a wood stove!):
And finally, two pictures of the stained glass windows in the house:


As previously mentioned, Dave wasn't able to run the half-marathon, but my two youngest were able to run their 3K fun run with Just Run!  I couldn't leave this post without showing your their perfect strides as they crossed the finish line:
and with their medals:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Red House

We were blessed to be able to get away for a couple of days last week (for the half-marathon that Dave didn't run), and we stayed at the greatest place. It is an old farmhouse that is available for people in full-time ministry at a very (VERY) reasonable rate. The family that owns the land lives in a house next door to the house we stayed in. They feel that providing this peaceful place for people in full-time ministry is a ministry of theirs. How cool is that? The first evening we were there, the man who owns the farm came over to make sure we were okay and then he asked if he could pray over us. Oh my goodness! What a blessing that was! This couple have raised all of their children on this rural farmland. They have a son serving in full-time ministry as a missionary pilot in Brazil, so I'm sure they understand the blessing that they are able to be to those who serve.

Anyway, I took a lot of pictures, but none of them capture the coziness and peace that we experienced being there. Stop back by here because I will share some more photos over the next few days.

The house we stayed in is called, "The Red House." Aptly named, don't you agree?

We'll start with the fresh flowers that were placed throughout the home. This first picture is what was directly in front of us when we walked through the door.
As if that weren't enough of a beautiful and thoughtful surprise, look at all the other surprises we found. See if you don't end up taking a deep cleansing breath looking at these photos.




And I forgot to take a picture of the flowers in the center of the farmhouse dining table that had a package of cookies and a welcome card beside it. So, so thoughtful. We knew we were in for a special couple of days. Next up? You'll have to come back to find out.

Honestly, We're Not Trying to Steal Your Stuff!

Okay, I was doing laundry again today (well, what's new about that?), and I ran across a shirt that I have never seen before. I know it isn't a shirt that I bought for my son, and I know no one gave it to him, but here it was coming out of my dryer. I asked my son about it and he said he had worn it (I am most observant, obviously) and put it in the dirty clothes basket. I asked him where he got it and he told me, "I don't know, my drawer?"

I'm sure it was simple to my son - "I need a shirt. Shirts are in my drawer. All shirts in my drawer are mine. This shirt, although I've never seen it before, is in my drawer. Therefore, it must be mine. I will wear it."

And so, here I am folding a shirt that I've never seen before to put back in my son's drawer. I asked him if it belonged to any of the numerous kids who come over to play, but he said no. So, I'll put it back in his drawer and he'll wear it again. However, I have this fear that another mom (either at church or in the neighborhood) will see my son in this shirt and think that we just took something of theirs. So, I give you all permission to let me know if you ever see any of my children wearing anything that belongs to you child. It wasn't deliberate, honestly!

At my house, this same phenomenon is especially true during the swimming season with beach towels. I have beach towels that I know are not ours, but there is no name on them and no way to know who they belong to. So, same goes for beach towels; if you see one of yours when you're here, just let me know and you can have it back. And....I'll do the same if I see one of my beach towels at your house, okay?

And...you can thank me that I won't even go into the little kids' underwear that shows up from time to time! :-)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Emergency Phone Calls

As many of you already know, Dave had surgery a week and a half ago to remove his appendix. He had been very ill on Tuesday but felt better on Wednesday so he went in to work. Later on Wednesday, when I arrived home in the afternoon, he said he felt better, but his side was hurting. After a visit to urgent care, we ended up at the ER and before long Dave was having blood tests and scans done as they were trying to figure out what the problem was. You can see how ill he was in the following picture:


Yes, that's right; he's in the emergency room with an appendix the doctors are hoping will not burst before they can do surgery, and he's talking on the phone! Oh, but I'm sure it is a serious conversation regarding his durable power of attorney should something unforeseen happen during surgery, but take a look at this:


It doesn't look like he's too concerned in this photo, does it? He actually had time to visit with a few people and even receive visitors before his surgery was scheduled, so I guess he figured he could multi-task while he was in the ER. Truly though, if a person is going to have surgery, this was the best possible way to have it - a leisurely wait for results and scheduling, a great surgeon, a friend who "happened" to be the OR nurse on duty, and a cell phone.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I Voted as Though I've Not Voted

I found a short video clip from John Piper in which he discusses three important things for the Christian to keep in mind leading up to Tuesday's election. I think it is worth a few minutes of your time and perhaps your blood pressure will lower a few points.  

From John Piper's perspective, the three points to keep in mind as you enter the polling place (or mark your absentee ballot) are:
A prophetic perspective
The sovereignty of God
The gospel

Whether you're a die hard McCain or Obama supporter, or your vote shall be cast for another candidate, I encourage you to listen to his thoughts, for I consider them especially helpful for those who are of a kingdom that will never be shaken. This was originally posted on this blog.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

When the Heart Waits

The movie, "The Secret Lives of Bees" just came out, but I haven't seen it yet. I am re-reading the book (written by Sue Monk Kidd) once more before I go to see it. I have an extraordinary gift for forgetting the stories in movies I see and books I read. :-) Honestly, I can be a third of the way through a movie before I remember that I've seen it before. I can pick up a book a couple of years after originally reading it and not remember most of the story line. I think I'm fully engaged in the story when I'm reading a book or watching a movie, but after it's over, I simply close that door in my mind and move on to the next thing. I am always asking Dave, "Have I seen that?" when someone mentions a movie. Oh my, what will the future look like if I'm this forgetful now?

Anyway, I have read all of Sue Monk Kidd's books. She has written God's Joyful Surprise: Finding Yourself Loved, When the Heart Waits - Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, The Secret Lives of Bees, and The Mermaid Chair. The books were written in that order, and I am not endorsing all of her works.

I just finished reading When the Heart Waits - Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions. I had checked it out from the library, but it is one that I will be buying because I found so much that I needed to underline when I was reading it. (Note: it is not a good idea to underline in a library book! :-) There is just so much in this book that resonated with me that I don't know where to start. I thought I'd share one passage from the book in the chapter entitled, "Incubating the Darkness" to give you a taste of the richness enveloped in the pages of this book. This passage is from her journal.

August 12. Today is my birthday. It makes me think of the new life I'm incubating and the Birth-day (my note: when she emerges from the darkness) still to come. Sometimes it seems that life is a grace too severe, too vast, and too beautiful to receive. But I open my hands anyway. Today I'll talk to myself. I'll say, Accept life - the places it bleeds and the places it smiles. That's your most holy and human task. Gather up the pain and the questions and hold them like a child upon your lap. Have faith in God, in the movement of your soul. Accept what is. Accept the dark. It's okay. Just be true. I'll say to myself, You are loved. Your pain is God's pain. Go ahead and embrace the struggle and the chaos of it all, the splendor, the messiness, the wonder, the agony, the joy, the conflict. Love all of it. I'll say to myself, Remember that little flame on the.....candle. Cup your heart around it. Your darkness will become light." (page171)

This is a deep book and not to be read for sheer leisure. It required concentrated focus on my part to grasp and internalize the metaphors Sue Monk Kidd so masterfully paints, but it is a beautiful and powerful book - very much worth my time and attention. It's one that I know I will read again because, as I previously stated, I have a special gift for forgetting what I've read. Smile.

Soup-er Saturday

I love blustery, rainy days, so today has been a great day for me. Dave's on the mend (he had an emergency appendectomy on Wed. night), and my youngest is snuggled in my bed with a fever and the stomach flu, so we're taking it easy around here.

Today was the perfect day to make a big pot of soup. In 15 minutes, I whipped up one of our favorites. I thought you might want the recipe; it's fast, simple, and tasty. I always double the recipe and serve it with warm sourdough bread - Yum!

Just a side note, my oldest daughter just came out of her room and asked what smelled so good. I told her I had made Sausage Bean Soup (as we call it), and she said, "You are most wonderful, mother. I'm so happy!" Really. She said that; I'm not making it up! :-) See, I told you it's one of our family's favorites.


Quick and Tasty Bean Soup

In a large saucepan or dutch oven:
3/4 lb. bulk sausage

1/2 C. chopped onion
2 cloves garlic - minced
1 Tbsp. fresh basil (1 tsp. dried)

Brown and drain the above.


Add:

1 14 oz can petite diced tomatoes, undrained
1 14.5 oz can beef broth (low sodium)
1 15 oz can black beans, drained

1 15 oz can pinto, butter, or small white beans, drained

Stir. Cover. Cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes.


Serve and top with fresly grated parmesan cheese.

If you decide to try this recipe, be sure to let me know what you thought of it. Stay warm and dry.