I love Christmas. If you've read anything I've written, you already know that.

Lately I've been thinking about the years before Jesus was born, of what the Jewish people must have thought as they waited for God to deliver on his promise of a Savior. I was reading through the copy of the Jesus Storybook Bible (which I love and very highly recommend, not just for kids, but adults, too), thinking about some things to read in the Christmas service at The Bridge.

I love this part so much that I just had to record it here - this is from Ezra and Nehemiah and Malachi, where the Jewish people are celebrating the things that God has done for them.

They remembered how God had always, all through the years, been loving his children - keeping his promise to Abraham, taking care of them, forgiving them. Even when they disobeyed. Even when they ran away from him. Even when they thought they didn't need him.

Then God told his children something more...

I can't stop loving you. You are my heart's treasure. But I lost you. Now I am coming back for you...I am going to send my Messenger - The Promised One. The One you have been waiting for. The Rescuer. He is coming. So, get ready!

It had taken centuries for God's people to be ready, but now the time had almost come for the best part God's plan.

God himself was going to come. Not to punish his people - but to rescue them.

God was getting ready to wipe away every tear from every eye.

And the true party was just about to begin..."

From The Jesus Storybook Bible, written by Sally Lloyd-Jones

occ follow-up.

Sunday was the last day for our church to turn in Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, and we showed this video of the kids filling their boxes:

(By the way, I love that song - isn't it just perfect? And you know my obsession with Christmas music.)

Altogether, including many boxes created by Dev and Joel's daughter and her friends at college, we donated 62 boxes.

a different perspective.

I'm visiting my sister Kelli at her (kind of) new place in Baltimore for the night, before heading to Frederick for the rest of week for Thanksgiving with my family. We spent some time walking around Federal Hill, checking out the Cross Street Market and stopping in the only store still open that looked interesting.

It was this little place with a French name and a British owner. We talked for a while about Thanksgiving, about the flowers we had bought for Mom and who was making what part of the meal, when he reminded us that Thanksgiving is an American holiday.

"Of course, we don't celebrate Thanksgiving," he said. "Well, we do, just on another day. July 4th."

Um, you know we're Americans, right?

pumpkin pie.

I'm not a pie person. I'm actually not much of a dessert person, though once in a while I just really, really want some chocolate. Especially if it comes wrapped around fruit, like these:

(Royal Fruit Chocolates, from Harry and David)

But, my sister really wanted a real pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving, made from a real pumpkin (not canned). So, my friend Teresa told me how to cook a pumpkin (and then got me another one after the first one was a complete fiasco, and believe me, that's a lot of work for a fiasco). Then, I baked a pie yesterday as a trial run, then took it to a bunch of people who actually know good pumpkin pie, and will be honest with me if mine wasn't. I think I found a winner - thanks to Robbie, who provided the recipe (even if his wife says that my pie was better than his).

I'll know Thursday if it passes my sister's inspection.

Here are instructions for making pumpkin puree (though I just kind of mashed it up with a potato masher, and it didn't turn out nearly this liquid-y).

And here's the recipe:

Pumpkin Pie

1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1 1/2 cup cooked pumpkin
1 2/3 cup evaporated milk
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cloves
2 eggs
9-inch pie crust, unbaked

Mix all ingredients until smooth. Pour into pie crust and bake 15 minutes at 450°, then reduce heat and bake 45 minutes at 325° or until knife comes out clean.

Note: I actually ended up cooking this significantly longer - almost 30 minutes, in 10 minute increments.

born in bethlehem.

One of my new favorites from the many Christmas CDs I've purchased already this year - Third Day's Born in Bethlehem:

please stop me.

It's not even Christmas, and I've already bought five new Christmas CDs this year. Five.

two things.

I now have my passport - it came today. I feel almost like a world traveler, already. The next step for Russia is the visa application, once we nail down the specific dates.

Its snowing in southeastern Virginia before Thanksgiving (and in Nags Head, for that matter). Apparently, its snowing in Frederick, too - because Jacob says its like being inside a snow globe. Love that kid.


In February I'm going to Russia to visit JB and Iris, assuming we can get all the details of passports and visas and timing worked out.

And believe me, I'm not entirely sure why I'm going to Siberia during one of the coldest months of the year. Just trust me when I say this is very definitely God's timing, and not mine.

Yesterday I went to Walgreens to get passport photos and then to the post office to submit my application. Only to find out that the post office wouldn't accept the photos from Walgreens, since you couldn't see the color of my eyes, so after paying twice as much for photos at the post office, I went back to Walgreens to get my money back.

Passports are not cheap, especially when you pay the extra money to expedite them.

christmas music.

I changed the playlist at the bottom to Christmas music. I know its only the middle of November, but I've been listing to Christmas music and wearing Christmas socks since the day after Halloween. And I'm seriously thinking of decorating before I travel to Frederick for Thanksgiving.

A few days ago I bought two new Christmas CDs, both from Target - the Polar Express soundtrack and a collection of songs from artists from the 50s and 60s. Someday I'll actually figure out how many Christmas CDs I have.

operation christmas child.

For the last few weeks our church has been collecting shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, a program with Samaritan's Purse where you filled a shoebox with personal items, toys, and school supplies for a girl or boy in one of three age ranges. The boxes are then sent to children all over the world, along with a booklet in their native language explaining the gospel to them.

I've participated for many years, but I didn't realize just how powerful this outreach was until this year at Catalyst, where one young woman from eastern Europe shared her story of receiving one of these shoebox gifts as a child. The simple fact is that for many, receiving these gifts will be the first time that they realize that there is a God who loves them.

We spend a lot of time talking to the kids in our toddler nursery about sharing and being kind to others, but I wanted to make sure they had a chance to put this into action. So this Sunday, I asked parents to bring supplies for inside the boxes, I brought the shoeboxes themselves, and we filled eight of them. The kids were wonderful - generous and excited to fill their boxes, but the very best part came at the end, when Kristen sat them all down in a circle and they listened intently to her as she told them what a wonderul thing they had done.

knowing his will.

I've been thinking a lot lately about vision and God's will, partly because this is the topic Nick is currently doing at the Bridge. I read this post yesterday, by Brian Seay. I don't know anything about him, except that he was recently in the Dominican Republic, checking out the work that Compassion International is doing there.

Here's part of what he said:

"...I realized that the whole “God’s Will” thing was maybe something we just made too complicated.

For my life it is the simple revelation that God’s will is most often found when need and ability collide.

It is definitely true that we, as individuals, cannot solve every issue that we learn about or we are faced with. But it is also true that each of us has the ability to do something - it does not have to be everything - but we can do something. I think we get overwhelmed with the seemingly endless road of needs and assume we can’t do anything to make a difference on that road. We do this without ever assessing our own abilities and taking a look at what WE CAN do."

One commenter posted this quote (author unknown, at least to me) as a reply, and I've been thinking about it since I read it.

"Whatever passion you have; whatever burdens your heart and weighs on your mind; whatever gets your excited and revs up your soul. Do it. This is the will of God in your life. Because if you are fully submitted to Him (a daily choice) and you genuinely and whole heartedly seek Him, His face, His heart, and search His word in order to know Him, understand Him, and hear Him… then do what you want. Because if what you want is God, then He has placed in you those specific desires and passions. If you are fully surrendered to Him and He has full reign in your heart, then follow your heart; because in following your heart, you are following Him."

coolest wedding favor idea ever.

My friends Jon and Melissa got married yesterday, and did the coolest thing I've ever heard of for their favors. They included a card at each place setting with a note indicating that in lieu of favors, they had donated money to the missionary fund at our church.

I'm not a particularly sentimental person - I don't keep wedding programs or favors from every wedding I've ever attended (or any wedding I've ever attended, for that matter). I've always thought the most useful favors were food.

But Melissa and Jon's idea - definitely my new favorite.

whatever you're doing.

I just heard this song again in the car today, and I'm loving it.