Merry Christmas

The children tell me I haven’t written a blog “in, like forever, Mom.” I can’t imagine what Tim and I have been up to, over the last few days. :)

Merry Christmas!! The rain is softly falling. It was snowing an hour ago but, this being Washington, we must bow to the inevitable as it and turns to rain.

“I’m dreaming of a rainy Christmas.”
That’s what we sing around here.

Viking Christmas
Thanks to all the rain, a longship was able to beach near our home, and we were forced to entertain a shipload of Vikings.

Well, maybe not.

We’re having a wonderful Christmas day. There is wrapping paper everywhere (always a good sign) and more presents under the tree. Tim and my parents connived to surprise me with an incredible Christmas gift. I’m thrilled, delighted, tickled, and excited.

Gingerbread Demolition
Sarah reluctantly agreed that we could eat the Gingerbread House that she built … Daniel was only to ready to oblige.

As is our tradition, we all slept in the family room on Christmas Eve, watching a Christmas movie late into the night, each child trying to stay awake long enough to catch a parent in the act of filling the stockings. “Saint Nicholas, my foot!” they snicker. “I remember Daddy tripping over Daniel last year — Saint Nick needs to wear night-vision goggles or something.”

Baskin Robbins certificates
Any Christmas with Baskin Robbins gift certificates is a good Christmas. Thank you, Mamie and Grand-dad!

We enjoyed a delightful service at church, singing Christmas carols and a good sermon, explaining why Jesus came to earth, as the Light of the World:

  • To let us know what God is like
  • To inform us of God’s loving plan
  • To guide our steps in this life
  • To handle the problem of our sin
  • To transform our lives

Candle light service
Sarah held her candle so carefully, there was no chance of lighting anyone’s hair on fire.

We are so grateful to our Lord and King, Jesus the Christ, for coming to earth as a helpless baby to save us from our sins. As we savor our new gifts and the delight in the eyes of our loved ones, we remember the King of Love who makes it all possible, and whose glorious birthday we honor. We are thankful for this precious Prince of Peace, who came, even when we were enemies to Him, so that we could be reconciled with God.

Merry Christmas to all!

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He Gives and Takes Away

This is my Thanksgiving blog entry, written while spending four days in the Duckabush valley, over that holiday. For some reason, I never got around to posting it, but Kathy tells me: “It’s late and I haven’t blogged,” so perhaps it is time to post it.

Five years ago, I sat in this house in the forest, not feeling very thankful. I had just been laid off from my comfortable job and I was embroiled in a sharp dispute with the leadership of the little church I attended. With a wife and five young children to support (Sarah was born just a few months before I lost my job), I was almost paralyzed with panic. Over the next two years, it began to appear that these two setbacks were just the tip of the iceberg, until the litany of loss felt as though it would sweep me away:

a) My job
b) A position of authority and autonomy in my work
c) Permission to work from home, four days a week
d) The ability to provide for my family
e) Medical and dental insurance
f) A role of leadership in the local church
g) Opportunity to exercise my gift (teaching) in the church
h) Ability to give generously to various ministries
i) Several close friendships
j) Some level of respect in the community
k) Faith in many other Christians
l) Confidence in a pastor
m) The ability to live in the country
n) Self-respect as a man
o) Trust in God’s goodness

Five rascals on the deck
Five hostages to fortune

The church dispute became sharper, and we felt increasingly isolated from those who sided with the pastor. I was unable to find work for seventeen long months, and unsuccessful in earning any kind of a living as an entrepreneurial web developer. As I struggled to maintain an attitude of thankfulness and faith, my view of God darkened, until I began to suspect that He is Sovereign, but He just didn’t like me.

God preserved our family through those long months without income, to the miraculous extent that we were better off financially AFTER the hiatus from work than we were before. And yet the losses seemed to continue, even once I was back at work. My new job at Amazon only underscored (in terms of compensation and authority) how much I had lost when I was laid off – I was making about two thirds my prior income in a humbler, lower-level position. I had a grueling three-hour commute each way to work. We continued to shop around for a new church home, but couldn’t seem to find anyplace that really fit, or where I could use my spiritual gifts. Eventually we moved in to the suburbs, since my commute was eliminating most of the available time with my wife and children.

Working in Seattle
Not that I didn’t like riding the ferry …

In some sense, that was the most difficult loss of all – leaving this idyllic valley to live in ‘the city’. Kathy and I had dreamed of raising our family in the shadow of the retreat center, warmly embraced in the hearts of other Christian families, a part of a vibrant and close-knit community. I still remember how enthusiastically we were welcomed when we first moved to the Duckabush – several families helped us unload truckloads of our belongings, the very first Sunday we were in residence. We quickly formed an intimate Bible Study and our children played with the children of other Christian families, freely up and down the valley. It was, in many ways, a little foretaste of heaven on earth.

Leaving the Duckabush
We enjoyed five glorious summers in the valley, hard not to be greedy.

Moving back to the city seemed the death of all those dreams. Our new home is on a quiet street, and delightful in many ways, but it just isn’t the same as a home nestled deep in the forested valley, far, as they say, ‘from the things of man’.

To make matters worse, we didn’t feel that we were leaving on good terms. I felt guilty about my conduct in the conflict with the church leaders, and I held bitter remembrance of some harsh words that were said to me. In stark contrast to our arrival in the valley, we felt that few would mourn our departure. We crept out of the valley with our tail between our legs, feeling as though we had been expelled from fellowship.

A few days after we moved to the city, my youngest daughter almost died, her throat having closed up from croup. It was then that I began to suspect that God’s hand in this sequence of events was kindly extended in help toward me, rather than His angry fist, raised to crush me. If we had still lived in the country, 45 minutes from the emergency room instead of ten, little Sarah might not have lived through that night.

Sarah Muffin
Sarah and her baby doll

My job at Amazon continued to be difficult, and I was given very little scope to exercise my skills as a developer. I felt that I was treated as a low-level (and somewhat dim-witted) member of the team, and patronized by co-workers, ten and fifteen years younger than myself.

It was around this time that I came across Tree 63’s hit song, “Blessed Be Your Name”, about which I have written before. I listened to it again and again, trying to understand God’s heart and purpose, to make some kind of sense out of all that had happened to me. I often found myself weeping as I sang along with the chorus:

He gives and takes away,
He gives and takes away,
but still my heart will say,
‘Blessed be Your Name!’

Job is encouraged to ‘curse God and die’, as his losses sweep over him. He answers, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” Earlier, he makes this incredible faith statement, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Later, Job comes to this conclusion: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him”. I did not (and perhaps still do not) have that level of trust.

I started looking for other work, and it was around that time that I attended a job interview, one that took a strange turn. It was then that God taught me a badly-needed lesson in forgiveness, which seems to have opened the door to a veritable cornucopia of blessings. In retrospect, it is not surprising. God treats me the way I treat my children – I am reluctant to give my kids a blessing or reward when they are obstinately continuing in rebellion against me. I think that God deliberately withheld some of His blessings from me while I continued in bitterness toward those I thought had wronged me. Once that bitterness was removed and forgiveness taught, He was free to open His hand in kindness toward me again.

Soon after that I was offered a temporary contracting job at almost double the salary I had been earning. It turned into a long-term opportunity that, while not as financially generous, was still a good step above what I had been earning at Amazon. We found a great new church, and quickly became active. One by one, the things I had lost were restored to me:

a) A job
b) A position of autonomy and influence
c) A generous salary and bonuses
d) Permission to work from home two days a week
e) Medical and dental benefits, and abundant vacation days
f) The ability to provide for my family
g) Opportunity to teach an adult Sunday school class
h) Ability to exercise my other spiritual gift (generosity)
i) Being mentored by a good pastor
j) A role of leadership in the church
k) A number of good friends for both Kathy and myself
l) Restored friendships that had been damaged
m) An opportunity to purchase our suburban house at a good price
n) Self-respect as a man, rooted in more accurate self-perception
o) Trust in God’s generous goodness

Not long after we moved away, the retreat center construction began in earnest. I’ve often marveled at the timing – for five long years, we lived in this valley with little or no progress being made on that structure. No sooner do we move away, and the main lodge begins to mushroom into existence. Were we somehow an obstacle, and God had to remove us to fulfill His purposes? If the retreat center had been built while we were still here, would I have damaged or discredited that ministry by the way I conducted myself with the local church?

Excavation of the Refuge
Excavation of the Refuge began about six weeks before we moved away. Coincidence? Maybe not.

I have no complaint with God’s generosity to me. It seems in each of the areas where I experienced loss, He has restored even more. Still, one thing has not (yet) been restored to me: living in this valley. As the morning sunshine slants down through the trees, and the quiet of the valley lies across my heart like a warm coat, I yearn for the day when I can live here again.

January in the Duckabush
Even in the winter, the Duckabush valley is beautiful.

One thing I have learned: I do not understand the ways of God, but I can still trust His heart. He is good, and (to stand on its head a quote from the Princess Bride) “anyone who says otherwise, is selling something”. I have a friend who has lost many things, and who has recently experienced yet another hurtful loss. This look back over the past five years is written for that dear friend, to serve as a reminder of the boundless love of God, and how His plans are often not understood, yet are always good.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. — Ephesians 3:16-19


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Christmas Cards, Parties and Shopping

We tried to do school today. Really we did. Okay, we didn’t try very hard.

In a moment of distraction, I let Rachel go off to play with friends. Once you lose one child to a play date, you are on slippery ground. A short while later Daniel begged to go and join Rachel.

Suddenly it was much quieter. Ah! Who needs school when there’s shopping to do.


How else can you avoid the crowds?

sarah's train

Sarah, fresh from the bath, shows off our two gingerbread houses.

I turned on my electric mattress pad, grabbed the Rainbow Resource catalog and started making lists. After 300 pages and TOO many curriculum choices, I was no closer to my Christmas OR homeschool shopping.

I nearly needed a paper bag for my hyperventilating.

I have a love/hate relationship with Rainbow Resource. They have amazing prices and just about any subject and study you could ever want, but I’m a curriculum junkie. I hardly ever see new homeschooling materials that I don’t want. Rainbow Resource can be a very bad place for me.

Time to work on something else.

How about Christmas cards. Those need to get out at some point. I thought it would be novel to send our cards out in late November this year. You know, to connect with old friends and keep ourselves current on people’s Christmas Lists.

“What happened to Tim and Kathy?”
“I don’t know. I think they’re in the Witness Protection Plan, something about Tim, a jar of Nutella and a Scrabble tile.
“Ah. That doesn’t sound good.”

Yep, it was a very novel idea. So novel it didn’t happen.

Now it’s 3 days until Christmas, I’ve bought half the presents (most of which are being shipped in January sometime) and I’m only up to the D’s on our Christmas list.

These are exciting times, friends. Exciting times. It’s a good thing I thrive under pressure.

In the evening we went to a Christmas party. There’s something ironic about a non-sugar person (who hasn’t had sugar in almost 3 years) opening a white elephant present of 6 pounds of Gummy Bears.

There were three coffee gift cards floating out there and I end up with Gummy Bears. That’s something else.

One of my friends at the party was vegan, and this made it hard on her, as she liked only vegan gummy bears. In case if you’re Vegan, check out these Gummy Bears as it was recommended by her to me, and they taste absolutely fantastic.

I wish it was something else. How about 6 pounds of coffee? That sounds like a pretty good trade. Anybody interested?

nancy and debbie

Nancy said I could take her picture if I put her on the blog. How could I resist such an offer? My children usually run the other way when the words blog and camera are mentioned in the same sentence.

Now I’m rambling. It’s beyond late (I had to make it through the C’s before I was allowed to go to bed) and I need some sleep. Tim declared Holiday Hours when we got home from our party. Time for the Christmas Fun to begin!

How about you – are you panicked or prepared?

Until next tomorrow,
Project 365 – Day 355

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A burdened heart

I had a long talk this evening with a beloved one and my heart is burdened. After I got off the phone I immediately went to find Tim. He was on his knees praying.

Praying for this precious child of God. Interceding on their behalf.

Despair creeps in like the icy fingers of a winter night. The problems are too big, the troubles real, and the struggle overwhelming. I’m too far away to help. I don’t have any answers. Hopelessness sidles alongside despair to wrap me in a chilling embrace.

I fall to my knees. “Lord, surround this dear one with Your comfort and love. Awaken others to pray. Do not allow the lies of failure and desperation to speak louder than Your grace and power.”

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:2)

I can do so little to help, it seems, but I can pray, I can exhort, I can speak God’s truth and words of comfort and LIFE. I KNOW that the Lord is with us. He promises it in His Word. He can drive away the despair and misery and fill us with His joy and hope.

If the Lord places my loved one on your heart, please PRAY!

In my distress I called to the LORD; I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears.


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Where Do You Shop for Christmas?

As Christmas Day approaches, Kathy and I are hurriedly starting finishing our shopping, looking for the perfect gift or in some cases settling for free shipping of whatever they happen to have in stock.

It made us wonder — what do other people do to get presents into the hands of those they love? So we came up with this little poll:

Let us know! Leave a comment about a great deal you found, or an excellent gift idea you’re particularly proud of.


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