Lauren and Mikaela--identical twins living on opposite coasts--blog about the story of life and their adventures in faith.


Born Is The King of Israel!

Christmas Eve began with a family gathering around the fondue pot...

...and continued with a contemplative, worshipful service at our church, complete with our quintet performing O Holy Night! That's Lauren and Susanna on violin, Mikaela on "viola" (playing a violin but transposing viola clef into the violin's range), Micah on cello, and Melanie (not in picture) on piano.
When we arrived home again, we feasted on the second fondue course--dessert! Angel food cake, strawberries, pineapple, oranges, and banannas made the melted chocolate a bit more
healthy, don't you think?
Finally, the last tradition of Christmas Eve was completed--everyone got to open one present which was, of course, brand new pajamas! This year, everyone matched in plaid (including Mama and Papa)--that's Mikaela, Melanie, Susanna, Lauren, and Micah holding Jonah.

Christmas morning!

Two families arrived around noon, and we finally got dinner on the table, despite working around the many phone calls Papa had to deal with from work. (He was on call Christmas weekend, and had to go into work once on Christmas Eve and twice on Christmas day.)

Prime rib, bleu cheese potatoes, mashed potatoes, roasted asparagus, green beans, spinach cranberry salad, Jell-O salad, a vegetable tray, rolls, and various pickles and olives gave us plenty to feast upon!

Here, two teams get down to business and compete in one of the many games we enjoyed that afternoon.

Isn't she precious? This little girl is never short of arms to hold her at our house!

Jesus' "birthday cake"--we all sang happy birthday to Him before eating our weight in dessert!

The day ended with a delightful time around the piano as we sang new and old favorites, worshipping God and thanking Him for the incredible gift that we commemorate at Christmas time--Jesus coming to earth as a babe.
I hope your Christmas was as merry as ours!


Merry Christmas From Our Family to Yours!

Our virtual Christmas letter (written by yours truly) and picture! Enjoy a blessed day with family and friends, celebrating our Lord Jesus Christ!
Christmas, 2009
I was just sitting down to write the Christmas letter when a loud pounding on the door interrupted me. Everyone else was busy, so I dashed to the front to answer it. Before me stood a wizened white-haired man, looking as antique as the clothes he was wearing. Somehow, though, I felt the odd sensation that I had seen him before.
“Hello?” I said, not sure what he wanted. “Hello!” He boomed. “I’m Ebenezer Scrooge.” My eyebrows went up, and I stared incredulously at the man, but he just grinned the widest smile I had ever seen, a smile that even stretched up to his eyes.
Somehow, not five minutes later, he was sitting down at the kitchen table, requesting tea, and chatting with me like an old friend. “So, uh, how are you, Scrooge? You must be taking it easy these days?”
“Bah, humbug! I’ve never felt better since I started helping people—since Christ changed me,” he said with conviction. “Do you know what I mean, my dear?”
I walked to the table with his tea and sat down. “Actually, I do. Mikaela and I did a piano concert in January to benefit the Caring Pregnancy Center here in Longview. We raised somewhere around $1200 for them—it was incredible to do and see God’s blessing on the whole thing!”
Scrooge smiled and said in his charming British accent, “How lovely—and such a spirit of Christmas! I wish I could have come, but I was on holiday, visiting my sister in Italy.”
“Oh, I know how that is,” I replied. “Mama and Papa went to Hawaii this year for two weeks to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary!”
“25 years! Well, Fred, my nephew, and his wife have been married for 166 years, but that’s quite remarkable for your parents! And who stayed with you while they were in Hawaii?”
I smiled, remembering. “Actually, everyone was stuck with Mikaela and I the whole time. We made it through quite well, though, and made a lifetime of memories!”
“You don’t say!” The old man said. “I’m keen to know—how are your brothers and sisters?”
“Oh—they’re doing wonderfully! Melanie was baptized this year at our church’s family camp. That was such an amazing time for her to testify to her commitment to God, and it was a wonderful moment! She’s sixteen, and a junior in high school. Susanna, the twelve year old, is as busy as ever, and this year she has really turned out to be quite the chef—she could cook and bake all day and be happy as a clam!”
“Well, where is she now?” Scrooge asked, glancing around. “I fancy a plum pudding!”
I smiled. “Oh, she’s probably off practicing violin or piano with Melanie, who plays piano too. And Micah, now he’s ten and he is really growing up this year! Camping trips with Dad, excelling at the cello, and raising chickens and goats with Susanna—he does it all! Jonah, our seven year old, just started the violin, and he is doing wonderfully with
both that and third grade! Right now, he is intently preparing for a career as a fire-fighter!”
“And how are your parents?” Scrooge asked, taking another sip of tea and grimacing, I noticed, at my American attempt.
“Actually, they are doing quite well! Papa still has his job at Weyerhaeuser, for which we are grateful! He also is an elder at our church, so he preaches about once a month. And Mama, she’s had some health problems this year that she has had to work through, but God has been good to her through all of it. She continues to home school the four younger kids.”
Scrooge nodded understandingly. “I’ve been ill some myself, but I’ve managed to beat that Ghost of Christmas Future so far. But you have not told me of you and your sister yet,” he said.
“Oh—” I paused to think. “Well, we are keeping busy with college—we’re working on doing that online—that is, over the computer, um—well, just think of it as we are doing it long-distance, okay? And we’re playing violin and piano, teaching music, and making music all the time! We have even started a blog this year, so we have had fun indulging in our love of writing, too.”
Scrooge seemed completely befuddled—the poor man had no idea what I had just said, so I hurried on. “And in June we went with a friend to Utah to receive violin teacher training so we could become registered teachers! That was a fabulous learning experience—we both loved it!”
“Wonderful, my dear, just wonderful!” Scrooge recovered, patting my hand. “Travel these days has just gone to the rubbish bin. Why, your United States is simply breathtaking!”
“I know what you mean, Scrooge!” I said. “We went camping in Winthrop, WA in August with aunts and uncles and grandparents from Papa’s side to celebrate my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary! It was a Western theme town, so every day was full of hiking, shopping, swimming (it was hot!), avoiding snakes, and taking a horseback ride down to a cowboy cookout! God’s nature was stunning!”
Scrooge smiled. “I love to hear that! I know how much fun you all must have had together!”
I nodded. “More tea, Scrooge?”
“Oh no! Please, no,” he said, glancing down at his watch. “I really must be going—it’s almost Christmas, and I still have so much to do—turkeys to buy, Christmas cards to write to some ghost friends of mine… It was lovely chatting with you, though!”
“You, too!” I said, opening the door for him. “Merry Christmas, Scrooge!” I shouted as he walked down the snowy path—we’d recently gotten an inch of snow.
“Merry Christmas,” He shouted back, and his face crinkled in another brilliant Scrooge smile. “Remember the Christ Child, who came for this despicable old sinner! And God bless us, everyone!”
I closed the door on the wintry bite, leaned against it, and remembered what I had once heard of Scrooge. “It is said of him that he knows how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive posses the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”
Now, back to my Christmas letter…
Merry Christmas!
All our love,
Steve, Jennifer, Lauren, Mikaela, Melanie, Susanna, Micah, and Jonah


A Christmas Story

A Guest Post By Brittany
Last night, we traveled up our road and delivered cookies, Russian tea, and--to the "lucky" ones, a Christmas carol or two. ;-) We got to meet our new neighbors, who have bravely taken on a dilapidated dwelling. "What a great neighborhood!" The man exclaimed after we were all introduced. "So many people have stopped by to introduce themselves--and everyone seems so happy to see us!" We all laughed--partly because we are just glad to have someone living on that property who is not referred to with the prefix "crazy," and partly because--after 11 years of living on this road--we know exactly what he means. Please enjoy this post written in 2005 by Brittany, a neighbor down the road who is also a blogging veteran--five years (that's like a century in blog years, isn't it?) on her blog, Running Stitch!

In the fifties, we would have known everyone on our street, The Smiths, The Jones, The Whozits and The Whatchamacallems. In the year 2005 we are more likely to know the last names of the people on our blogroll than on our street and if you are like us, then you end up naming them yourselves, The Mormons, The Dog People, The Stonehouse, The Little Farm, The ones with the barky barky dogs, you get the picture.
Today however all those nameless faces came together on this DeadEnd road named after the Creek that winds through it. Around 1:30 my neighbor (The Mormons) knocked on my door. I naturally assumed she was bringing me cookies. I’m pregnant…bring me food. As soon as I saw her face I could tell she had been crying, her four year old had been missing for over twenty minutes and she was stopping by to see if he had show up here (after all we have Thomas the Tank Engine trains). I grabbed my jacket and the phone (luckily the little guy was out walking with his Grandpa) and called my mother-in-law (she lives next door) who immediately began phoning the neighbors.

Just so you know this story ends well.

This is a rural road, ours is one of the few houses actually visible from it. As my mother-in-law began phoning her neighbors of thirty years, I walked down to the StoneHouse to ask if they had seen Little Mormon boy. I’ve never talked to these neighbors before, sometimes I wave but mostly I avoid. They are the closest house to us on the road.
Immediately the two woman stopped wrapping presents, grabbed jackets and joined the growing number of people walking up and down the road. Male neighbors, whom I have never met were wading up and down the high rushing waters of the creek and my heart was in my throat.
As I walked up to the Mormon’s to report in, I saw my father in law, with my son strapped to his back, his two dogs and ours, headed my way. By this time the Mormon Wife was close to hysterics, after checking in with My father-in-law (who immediately (dogs and all) joined in the search) I headed up to the Mormon homestead to sit with their 11 month old so that Mom was free to make phonecalls.
Truthfully, I was convinced they were going to be pulling that baby out of the Creek and I couldn’t handle it. For forty five minutes I sat with the three Mormon children aged 9, 7 and 11 months in their living room, listening to Christmas music. Through the trees I could see my mother in law walking up the road, neighbors cars stopped all along the street and people combing the underbrush and outbuildings around the Mormon’s property.
And then suddenly there he was, being led up the driveway by a stranger none of us knew. He had been hiding in the neighbors garage (she was not home). His mother flew down the driveway still clutching the phone and crying.
My father in law met me at the bottom of the Mormon’s driveway looking exhausted. He had been combing the backroads with my 30+ pound toddler on his back for over and hour. As we walked home, my mother in law joined us. Neighbors dispersed, driving silently away and the sheriff’s deputies radioed in.
Emotionally drained, I felt happy. Happy that the baby was found alive, happy that I was going home to finish up last minute gifts instead of staying to comfort a neighbor. Happy that it wasn’t my son, neighbors had been searching the creek for. Happy that Christmas Eve wasn’t marred by a terrible tragedy. But mostly I was happy with humankind. Happy with the reaction of the people on my road. Happy that even though I couldn’t name many of them after two years of living on this road, my neighbors were the type of people who on Christmas Eve stopped in their rushing about to look for a little lost boy. Happy that this Dead End road, home to the People-who-have-lived-here-forever, The Renters, The ones with the Goat, Crazy Guy and his girlfriend, and the Ones with all those white cars, is where I live.
And I’m proud to call the One’s with the daycare, the Roofer, The ones who are always building on to their house and the Ones with the minature weiner dog named Hercules. My neighbors.
Merry Christmas.
Picture of our road, taken this morning by Mikaela after a brisk run. ;-)


When Children Meet Grandmas and Grandpas

It was a dark, gloomy, miserable, and rainy night...and inside a cozy, lighted building lived many elderly people. They were nice folks, but they didn't get many visitors, and they longed for some children to brighten their day. That very evening, a troop of children marched right into their home! They brought the rain, wind, mud, and noise with them, but they also brought something special: smiles and music.
The children were very nervous, but the elderly people smiled at them as much as they could to encourage them. The children had worked hard all year for their teachers, Lauren and Mikaela, to prepare their Christmas songs to share with the old people.

The students waited in anticipation. Some of them would be tinkling the ivories for the Grandmas and Grandpas, and some would be playing teensy-weensy violins, and some would be playing the biggest-one-I've-ever-seen kind of violins, which some people say are called cellos. Still others would be playing simply normal I've-seen-it-100-times kind of violins which could somehow produce extraordinary-never-before-heard sounds.

The Grandmas and Grandpas loved the music so much, they even sang along on one song!

They didn't know it, but they were attending the debut of a fabulous young violin player named Jonah. He had only been playing since July, but they were quite impressed when he performed the E string and A string concertos to perfection! And so was his teacher.

Jonah's friend, who sported a very classy hat, also made his debut with "Pop Goes the Weasel." He did the pop, and he even got the Grandmas and Grandpas to laugh!

Susanna was an old pro at this, and the elderly people paid close attention while she played.

Micah takes lessons from someone else, but the Grandmas and Grandpas would really miss seeing his humongous instrument, so he of course must play for them. And his sister should, of course, play the duet part with him so they can have a ton of fun together!

The Grandmas and Grandpas gave a great round of applause at the end of a fabulous Christmas Program that really got them in the spirit of Christmas! "Those kids sure are talented!" I'm sure they said as they watched them up on stage. Just a few minutes later, all the children had said their good-byes and, chattering merrily, skipped outside, bringing the rain, wind, mud, and noise with them. But you know what? Their smiles and music stayed in that room with the Grandmas and Grandpas, at least until next year.


A Tale of Girls and Boys

Once upon a time, there were two little girls in a loving family. Life was wonderful, except for one thing—playtime was sorely lacking. How could one dance around like Ginger Rogers if there was no masculine partner? How could one cook and cradle plastic dolls if there was no precocious, pint-sized “Daddy” to play house with? Of course, their Papa filled in when he could, but he wasn’t available for the 10 AM playtime, the 1 PM playtime, and the 3 PM playtime. Then, along came another girl—and there were three to hopscotch, swing with, pour tea for, and dress up together. Pink and ribbons and braids and dolls abounded, with nary a car or ball in sight. Then, along came another girl. And friends stoutly accused Mommy and Daddy of lying about the gender, sure that a boy must be hidden amongst those pink blankets. The three older sisters had prayed for this girl, and loved her even more when she arrived. She was practically perfect in every way, and by then, all had gotten accustomed to substituting a girl when playing house.
Still, however, they decided to go to the source—God—and pray for another baby—only this time, unlike the last time, they would specifically request a boy. Nine, spellbinding months passed, until…a boy! He had arrived. The girls dressed him in blue, held him on their shoulders as a dancing partner, and showered him with so much love that he didn’t even think to pity himself for being the youngest in a very feminine family. Occasionally, leftover bits of pink found their way onto his personage, but in general, he remained very much a mystery to his sisters—a boy, in every way possible.
Emboldened by their past successes, these perky girls went to God again, positive that their brother needed a masculine playmate. Providence dictated that another boy would indeed come. Years later, these boys come in handy to their sisters. They ask advice for dressing—which always brings a flutter to the sisters’ feminine hearts—they tease the sisters, but not too often—which keeps the sisters modest—and the brothers are always available to rescue them from dead mice, dead birds, dead bugs, or any other deceased thing.However, these boys—they’re also perplexing. Why on earth, the sisters wonder, would male children suddenly jump on top of each other and start pummeling each other—“sparring” as they call it, for fun? How does this even make sense? The sisters also cannot understand why boys insist on tucking everything in—shirts, sweaters, vests, ties, pajama tops, and the like are frequently victims despite the sisters’ attempts to enlighten their brothers about respective tucked-in events and tucked-out events. Finally, boys seem to be born with an automatic dislike for kisses, and reject their sisters' attempts to reform them.
Despite their quirks, however, these brothers make the best dance partners, stand-in daddies, and protectors a girl could ever want. The sisters are doing their very best to make their rough-and-tumble brothers into gentlemen, with both success and failure. That time when a sister and a brother approached a door to a clothing store and stood there looking at each other, with the girl hoping to encourage her brother to do the gentlemanly thing, and the brother thinking who-knows-what…that probably wasn’t so successful (especially since it was a double set of doors and the brother failed at both sets…on the way in and out)! Right after that, however, the sister took the brother out to get ice-cream…and—although she still can’t quite get a grasp on the masculine mind—she thinks he would have opened that door for her, if it hadn’t been automatic.
Then there was that time, when, walking on their road, one of the sisters explained to her littlest brother that gentlemen walk on the side nearest to the road to protect the ladies. Fascinated, he dutifully followed the right side of her personage all the way home.
These boys—these cello-playing, violin-playing, firemen-wannabe, Einstein-rivaling, soon-to-be-gentlemen boys…they’re going to make two women very happy someday. For now, though, they are making four girls extremely happy. And, as it turns out, while the girls are busy doing their womanly deeds and trying to turn their brothers into men, they don’t even realize that “their” little boys have been turning them into women all along.

First picture by Sandra Kuck

Remaining pictures by Norman Rockwell, taken from


Creatures of Habit

Almost every family has Christmas traditions, and ours is no exception. For breakfast on Christmas Day, we always have a certain breakfast casserole, canned peaches, and cinnamon rolls. On Christmas Eve, we always open up a pair of new Christmas pajamas. But this year I was curious about the traditions everyone celebrates—how did they make the leap from being the oddity of one family to becoming the beloved staples of the world? I hope you enjoy this look at some common traditions! Bear in mind that many of these are centuries old, and thus, there may be numerous legends and conflicting ideas about their origin.

Is King Wenceslas of the song “Good King Wenceslas” a real person?
This question has always bugged me, so I decided to research for myself. Turns out Wenceslas was a Bohemian Duke who was made a saint after he was murdered and was given the title of king posthumously. (Better late than never, I suppose!) Legend has it that this Christian man would rise and deliver alms to the poor in bare feet through the snow and cold. The “Feast of Stephen” mentioned in the song is December 26, also known as Boxing Day in the UK and Canada. On Boxing Day, people would put money in alms boxes for the needy in the community. (And I always thought the weird British had a big wrestling match the day after Christmas!)

Where did the Christmas tree come from?
Some say that pagans assigned significance to evergreens long before it was associated with Christmas. However, the Christmas tree has many interesting legends explaining its origin. One says that St. Boniface, a German Christian missionary, rescued a young boy from pagans who were about to sacrifice him to an oak tree they were worshipping. St. Boniface furiously chopped down the tree and discovered a small spruce tree growing at the oak’s base. He gave it to the child as a symbol of everlasting life. Although most legends agree that the Christmas tree originated in Germany, many stories recount that Martin Luther began the tradition. The glimmer of the stars through the branches of a tree so inspired Luther that he took the tree home and adorned it with candles. In the beginning, many trees were adorned with apples (which later became our round ball ornaments) and symbolized the tree in the Garden of Eden. Christmas trees likely became popular in America when Germans began to immigrate. An interesting bit of trivia that I didn’t know is that in 1882, Thomas Edison’s assistant, Edward Johnson, came up with the idea for electric Christmas tree lights. (He one-upped you on that one, Tom!)

Does “Xmas” really take Christ out of Christmas?
Contrary to what I previously thought, it does not! This abbreviation comes from the Greek word for Christ, Xristos. As early as the 1500s, European Christians used “X” as an abbreviation for Christ’s name in “Christmas.” They knew the significance of this shorthand, but modern Christians often do not, and the meaning has been widely misunderstood.

Christmas cards—where did they come from?
The first Christmas card was an inky night sky with beautiful angels filling the horizon as far as the eye could see. However, the tradition as we usually think of it is only 150 years old. School kids actually started it (I find that quite significant!) when they brought home papers bearing their best handwriting and proudly presented them to their parents around Christmas time. In 1843, an Englishman, Sir Henry Cole, had an artist friend draw a design (see above) for a card, and he printed 1,000 to 2,500 copies and sold them for a shilling apiece. Brilliant idea, Sir Cole!

From Christmas caroling to ornament shopping to reading the Christmas story in Luke to watching the Nativity Story to celebrating Advent, the list of traditions my family celebrates could go on and on until I lose every single one of you. The point is, however, that many traditions actually point back to Christ—helping us weak humans keep our focus on Him and His gifts of family and friends during this season. (I must confess, I'm not exactly sure how the pajamas fit into that, though...) We are creatures of habit, and that is why Christ established traditions in the first place (feasts for the Jews, communion, singing of hymns).
But now I am curious—what traditions do you and your family celebrate to remind you of Christ’s birth?


It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!

This weekend, we got around an inch of snow which is persistently hanging around, due to below-freezing highs:
Despite the icy weather, we kept busy this weekend. Christmas tree hunting, parade attending, and the Jingle Bell 5k Run/Walk!

Above are all the cousins who traveled to Portland, OR to participate in this benefit event to promote and further arthritis research. Aunt Hiedie organized the team ("Hiedie's Holiday Hoofers") as her choice for the annual family gift exchange (Go to And the Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day to "meet" Dad's family). As you can see, we were careful to follow Aunt Hiedie's words of instruction as she handed us our bags of race shirts, Old Navy pajama pants, reindeer antlers, and Rudolph noses: "Feel free to not wear anything that makes you look beautiful!" This event occurs around the country, but our event was actually colder than the one in Anchorage!

Left to right: Uncle Larry, Susanna, and Melanie heading for the finish line in front of Portland's skyline!

Left: Micah--almost there!

Below: (back row) Melanie, Susanna, Mikaela, Lauren, Mama, Papa
(front row) Micah, Jonah

After the race, we relaxed at a neighborhood coffee shop, then went to Aunt Vickie and Uncle Larry's home to watch a movie, try our hand at Christmas trivia, sing carols around the piano, eat borscht (a family heritage--it's a Polish/Russian red soup made of beets, cabbage, broth, dill, and vinegar), play catch phrase, and race to unwrap four layers of wrapping paper (with gloves, hat, and scarf on) to get to prize chocolate bars!

That night, after getting home, we decorated our tree! Sadly, this year's trees at our traditional Christmas tree farm were all on the short side. The benefit, however, was that we didn't need a ladder to decorate!

I hope you are all getting in the Christmas spirit now! Just remember that, even with all of these fun traditions and festivities, Christ is the gift of Christmas and the heart of our celebration.


Joy is a Place

So there I was, cell phone in hand, desperately trying to get enough signal to call my dad back after his numerous phone calls that I had missed. I was in the building that I use to teach my music lessons, wandering around, eyes glued to the miniscule phone tower and bars on my screen. I meandered around, out of the room, down the stairs, out the heavy door, and finally got some signal! Elated, I was starting to dial the number when I suddenly realized that the heavy door to the building had thudded close. A warm wash of apprehension came over me—the doors locked automatically, and I had been so intent on my cell phone that I had neglected to grab a key, a coat, or any of my belongings! It was after dark, the place was deserted, and I was freezing cold. As I waited for dad to come riding up on his white horse to rescue me, (-: I told myself to have a good attitude. I reminded myself that it was my choice whether or not to let this ruin my evening as I paced to try to keep warm. It didn’t work. My thoughts kept wandering to the fun family outing I was missing out on, even as I tried to meditate on Scripture. The van finally pulled up and as I dashed over to get Mikaela’s key, all my good advice to myself went out the window. I was in a bad mood (and it didn’t help matters any when a younger sister crowed, “And you’re not even blonde!”)
This week’s adventure forced me to examine why I couldn’t simply say, “Oh well, the door’s locked—I’ll just enjoy this quiet time to myself and God while I wait!” Something had to be wrong—I was missing something. My first thought was that I must have lost my brain in order to perform such an escapade, but the more I really dug into it, the more convicted I was that I was missing joy. This is a dangerous place, for joy is a temperature gauge for the heart, whether it is hot, cold, or lukewarm.
I have a feeling I'm not alone in this lack of joy. Yet, though we know we want joy, it is still slippery and elusive. It is one of the most sought-after things, but many find it unattainable. And it is no wonder, when they go about achieving joy in the way this woman with a Ph. D does:
“I feel joy when my Inner Child feels loved by me, important to me, cherished by me, seen by me, valued by me. I feel joy when I attend to my wants and needs, saying "no" to others when I mean no, and "yes" to others when I mean yes. I feel joy when my Inner Child feels safe inside, knowing that I am taking care of her, knowing that I am connecting with my spiritual Guidance each moment so that we are not alone.[i]
Bologna! Is joy personal fulfillment and satisfaction? Christmas caroling and rousing music and jingle bells and helping the homeless? Is joy laughter and smiles—in short, is it a transitory emotion? I hope you’re saying no—joy is as unaffected by what is going on around you as a thermometer in your mouth is unaffected by the weather. “Happiness depends on happenings, joy depends on Christ. (Anonymous)” Joy doesn’t take the temperature of your circumstances and react—happiness does, but joy takes your internal temperature. Joy isn’t always laughter, either—it requires tears, disappointment, and heartbreak to really come into full view.
Right after Paul wrote to say that he would not be able to visit the Thessalonians, he wrote, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? (I Thessalonians 2:19)” So if joy isn’t an emotion, what is it? Joy is a place—the place your heart is. Psalm 16:11 says, “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” The only place of true joy is before the throne of God, bowing to the majesty of Christ. If your heart is in that place, your joy will bubble out from joy that God alone can give.
Think about the most joyful people you know—in my case, they are Christians who simply can’t help having a huge smile on their faces just like they can’t help talking about God! One anonymous quotation asks, “When was the last time you laughed for the sheer joy of your salvation?...Let the world see your joy and you won't be able to keep them away. To be filled with God is to be filled with joy.” David danced for sheer joy before the Lord, Hannah couldn't contain her joy when God gave her a child, and Job found quiet joy in his Redeemer even though his world was shattered.
This Christmas season, I leave myself with this resolution from Max Lucado on Upwords:
“I choose joy....I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance. I will refuse the temptation to be cynical...the tool of the lazy thinker. I will refuse to see people as anything less than human beings, created by God. I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than an opportunity to see God. “
Furthermore, I choose to dwell moment by moment, second by second, in that beautiful, lighted place before the breath-taking throne of God.

[i] Margaret Paul, Ph. D


Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Why is Jonah smiling so broadly? He is getting ready for a family tradition: gingerbread houses! What began many, many years ago (when I was younger than he) as graham cracker lean-tos has now morphed into a fantastical two-day construction of gingerbread mansions and trains complete with landscaping. Saturday and Sunday, Melanie began the project by whipping up the gingerbread dough and baking it all in our assortment of cast iron and stone forms. After picking out a small amount of nearly every inspiring candy at the store (gum drops, M&Ms, caramel, licorice, candy canes, and chocolate santas are consistent favorites), we had only the icing to make before getting started.

Now, icing is vital to a successful gingerbread mansion. In fact, we do not actually make icing; what we make is an all-natural, edible version of liquid nails, plaster, caulk, paint, and wet cement rolled into one. It really is a remarkable product that I fully intend to market one day and earn my millions. Until then, however, you can find the recipe at the end of this post. Guard it carefully! It is the secret to a sturdy castle.

Once the icing is made, assembly begins upon a foil-covered cardboard square (acreage is a plus). We carefully shave each side to make all corners precise and level. Then a generous heaping of icing is smoothed on the base and one side. The two walls are fitted together, and then we wait, wait, wait. Fit the next wall on, and wait, wait, wait. Call everyone over to heave the final wall up (gingerbread is heavy stuff!), and then wait...and wait...and wait. Your house must be dry before attempting to put on the roof if you value your sanity (believe you me when I say that collapsing an entire house because of a prematurely placed roof will not only produce tears but will also endanger your soundness of mind). Ever so carefully slather the cement on all four sides of the roof (we cracked ours in half and ended up having to stabilize it with a popsicle stick) and stick it on. Lauren, Melanie, and my house had dormer windows (I told you it was a mansion!), so that required extra precision, patience, and persistence.

When your house is thoroughly and solidly dry (these things take time!), the best part begins--candy! We use all sorts of crazy things (in addition to candy, of course)...melted hard candies...cereal...pretzels...and toothpicks. Creativity and variety is a must--perfection is not allowed.

This year, Micah and Susanna collaborated on a one-story abode; Lauren, Mel, and I made a two-story house; and Jonah ably created a train with an engine, boxcar, flatbed, and caboose. You can see Micah and Susanna's house in those two lower right pictures in this collage. Theirs is a fine specimen of the plaster and paint variety as some residents tend to feel that gingerbread is beneath them. Thus their gingerbread is slathered with brightly colored paint (err...icing). Although this method allows the house to last for years with very little upkeep, our residents decided to embrace their inner gingerbread. So, as you can see, much of Lauren, Mel, and my house is bare gingerbread (which of course requires a good scrubbing and sealing every year to protect it from the elements).

All finished! Standing in front of their respective creations are Jonah, Mikaela, Melanie, Lauren, Susanna, and Micah. Ice-skating rinks, benches, snowmen, santas, roads, stoplights, fences, and trees adorn the landscapes. According to tradition, the houses and trains will be dissassembled on New Year's Eve and enjoyed (the gingerbread and icing are rock hard by then, however, requiring hammers and hard teeth).

Mikaela's Famous Cement
4 cups powdered sugar
3 egg whites*
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
Place all ingredients in a medium, nonplastic mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer to beat at a low speed 5-7 minutes or until icing is glossy and holds peaks. The icing dries very quickly; cover with a damp towel when not being used. To store for later use, place in an airtight container and refrigerate. Mix thoroughly before using. Icing may be tinted using food coloring (liquid, paste, or powder), if desired.
Yield: 2 cups (enough to assemble and decorate one house)
*3 tablespoons meringue powder (pasteurized egg whites and cream of tartar), available at craft or retail stores, can be substituted for egg whites. Add to the powdered sugar along with 6 tablespoons warm water. Omit cream of tartar.
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