Friday, December 30, 2011

sand in our shoes

They hang delicately on our tree,
this tiny pair of Delft clogs;
a gift from a Dutch co-worker.

Inside she tucked a note:

 In the New Year ahead, may petty annoyances not drain your energies 
so that you can conserve them for the big, worthwhile things;
things done for His glory.  
 It isn't the mountain ahead that wears us out; 
it's the grains of sand in our shoe.
 -Adapted from quote by Robert Service

Wishing each and every one of you a New Year 
filled with a greater awareness of God's goodness
than of the sand in our shoes!

by grace alone,

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

celebrating what IS

Did you feel homesick at Christmas?

Christmas is a time when you get homesick
- even when you're home. 
 ~Carol Nelson

I had to laugh when I saw this quote, realizing that it's not just those of us who are far from home
but it's everyone who feels a little of that nostalgia, 
that longing for what used to be -
Christmases of our youth, or of our children's youth.

 I decided that this Christmas, instead of mourning what has been,
I'd celebrate what IS this year, this moment.

And in the middle of doing just that, I didn't take many photos at all...

No photos of our Christmas Eve dinner...yummy bean burritos concocted by Mark,
or of our traditional plate heaped high with Christmas goodies to munch
while we watched our traditional Muppet Christmas Carol (how refined we are!)
or of the glowing candlelight on our hymnals as we sang our way through all the Christmas carols we know...

No photos of Christmas morning stockings and gifts,
of our packed jeepney ride to church,
or of the clouds and rain that brought heavenly relief from the heat.

But we do have some photos of events surrounding our family Christmas...
Like the church party beforehand...
40 people gathered in our home to enjoy good fellowship, food, music, and fun.
Below you can see a few special moments...
all of us gathered together singing, DaiDai enthralled by the tree, Kuya Alan trying Michael's scooter, friends stirring up a fish salad in my kitchen, Inday and Tata labeling white elephant gifts to put under the tree...dear friends who graced our home.  Thank you for making Christmas all the more rich for us, friends!

 The next series of photos are from a special craft we did with the Sunday School...fleece tie-pillows, to remind us of Him Who had no place to lay His head.
Red on one side, to remind us of the blood that Jesus came to shed on the cross;
white on the other side to remind us of the cleansing power of His blood.

 Normally quiet and reserved kids were bouncing up and down, so excited to make these.  And even the older ones loved to make something that would be useful and special.

Christmas Day evening,  friends joined us for supper and games, and for time to reflect and share about our day, and our families back home, and of Christmases past and present.

Above, Mark and the guys in stiff competition; Amy and Elise in a friendly Dutch Blitz frenzy with Christy;
quiet fellowship among friends; and Michael meets his match in two energetic pre-school friends!

May this coming new year ahead be, 
for each of us, 
one of celebrating what IS, 
this very moment,
giving thanks to the Father,
from Whom comes every good and perfect gift!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

we wish you a Merry Christmas!

A Merry Christmas to all of you
from us5 earthen vessels!

Oh, God...
help us rightly to remember
the birth of Jesus, that
we may share in the songs
of the angels, the gladness
of the shepherds, and the
worship of the wise men.
May the Christmas morning
make us happy
to be your children.
~Robert Louis Stevenson

We miss you all at this season,
and give thanks for each one.
We're honored that you stopped in
to visit us here at earthen vessels at Christmas!

giving thanks,
Mark, Barbara, Amy, Elise & Michael

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

sweet traditions

It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas 
when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.  
~Charles Dickens

One Christmastime tradition in our home
is that each member of the family chooses a Christmas treat for baking in December.

 And every single year, someone chooses
It just wouldn't be Christmas without it!

So yesterday we pulled out the rolling pin,
7 cups of flour,
lots of decorations,
and turned up some Christmas music to set the mood.

When the temperature is already 90 degrees in your kitchen 
before you turn the oven on,  
the atmosphere isn't exactly Christmas-y, 
but the music helped tremendously!
(There's just NO music like the music of Christmas, is there?)

I'm not going to show you the silly cookies these crazy bakers created;
like the ones that involved smashed red hots and silver bullets.
Are these really our children?!?!?

I had to wake Michael from a 2-hour Cold-induced nap to join us.
He wasn't feeling very energetic, so we let him decorate sitting down.
I reasoned that his germs would get burned off in the baking process.
This is one tradition no one wants to miss, even if they're sick!

The smell of baking Gingerbread filled the air,
as pan after pan came out of the oven.
7 cups of flour bakes a lot of cookies.

We wish we could share a little of this Christmas joy with you!
Stop on in, and have a cookie, friends!

For more artistic photos of our gingerbread,
you can check out Elise's latest blog post

 Earthen Vessel's Favorite Gingerbread Recipe:

1 c. packed brown sugar 
1/3 c. shortening
1 ½ c. dark molasses
2/3 c. cold water
7 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Mix brown sugar, shortening, molasses and water.  Stir in remaining ingredients.

Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Heat oven to 350.  Grease cookie sheet lightly.  Roll out about ¼ of the dough ¼ “ thick on floured board.  Cut with floured gingerbread cutter or other favorite cutter.  Decorate, and place about 2” apart on cookie sheet.   

Bake 10-12 minutes or until no indention remains when touched. Cool and enjoy!

Monday, December 19, 2011

a Christmas to forget

Her name was Washi, but she's also known as Sendong.  
She swept across this island of ours on Saturday night, 
and claimed almost 1,000 lives. (Source: BBC)

Many victims in coastal towns slept as she flashed into their homes at high tide,
washing them, and their entire villages out to sea.

Mass burials are being organized, 
and relief for tens of thousands of people in need of clean water, food and medicines.

Our home is in Davao, and we felt no effects of the flooding.

But we have friends who did, and they are deeply grateful 
to have only been flooded knee-high.

And we have friends who have family in flooded areas - one who was killed,
others who have simply lost

Is God really still in control?
We believe He is.
Even the winds and the waves obey His voice.
But please be praying for those who are facing 
a Christmas to forget.
People who have lost loved ones,
homes, whole villages,
everything they ever held dear on this earth.

Then hold those you love dearly a little closer this Christmas.
And give thanks...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

silent night

Night has fallen in the city, but the streets are alive with people.  Neon lights flash against the dark sky. The smells of fish, squid balls, cigarettes and emission fumes fill the air.  Taxis honk their horns, stereos blare, motorcycle engines rev, dogs bark, and voices shout to be heard.  Above all the noise a recorded carol pipes out from McDonald's loudspeakers across the street.  

“Silent Night, Holy Night…” 

I walk behind my family, keeping an eye on our three children as they edge their way through the throng of jostling shoppers and street vendors hawking their wares: pineapples and durian, piles of clothing, individually wrapped candies, used shoes, dirty puppies, and numberless graphic DVDs for sale everywhere we look.

“…all is calm, all is bright…” 

A blind beggar holds his hands high in supplication to the crowd, a toothless old woman flashes a grin at our son, and a professional beggar girl with no shoes and a listless infant resting on her shoulder approaches, rubbing her stomach and giving her best pleading look.

 “Round yon virgin, mother and child, Holy Infant so tender and mild…”

Passersby step around a barefoot little boy lying sound asleep on the broken cement of the sidewalk, while down the street a young girl has found a bed in a rough wooden cart parked along the dusty roadside.

 “Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.” 

Suddenly realization floods my mind and shocks my senses.  This place is a whole lot more like the world Jesus was born into than any place I have ever lived before.  Smelly.  Dirty.  Loud.  Broken. Needy.  The people on this street corner more closely resemble the ones Jesus came to live among than anyone I’ve ever known before.  All my life I have sung this carol in quiet, reverent tones, in sanitary and beautiful places.  Christ’s coming had become in my subconscious mind a sweet, poetic event surrounded by gentle, lovely drama.

But now I have the privilege of living in a culture more like the one Jesus lived in.  A culture that is more distinctly aware of its need for Him. Among people who truly know what it is to live in constant dependence on His provision.  A culture largely stripped of pretense, poise or polish.  And here, in this same street filled with broken humanity, I hear the strains of the carol, unashamedly heralding the only true and lasting joy:

”Christ, the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born!”  

And I realize that this is exactly who I was without Him: broken, needy, filthy with sin, in desperate need of the ultimate gift of Christmas...the 'dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord at Thy birth!"

~This post is a revised excerpt from our December 2009 newsletter

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

come celebrate Christmas

It was the community Christmas Party...
a day of joy for about 300 children from the neighborhood,
planned and coordinated by Mrs. H, a dynamic woman with limitless energy,
who rallied an amazing number of helping hands!

The children flocked in the gates of the school at 2:30 p.m.
and were escorted to the field for a series of games.

They came dressed in their very best for this special event,
and the delight was contagious;
delight in a beautiful green grassy field,
delight in balls and friends to play with
and prizes to win.

Can you just feel the excitement?

Amy helped to lead games out in the blazing sun.
Elise was one of the game leaders too,

but she was happy when the games were done 
and she could go back to taking photos, her favorite pastime!

The games were perfect for all ages,

even for these tiny ones.
The children were supposed to be six years old to join the party, but we're pretty sure that the moms at the gate were stretching the age thing a bit, wanting their little ones to be in on the goodness.

The afternoon was so hot, that kids were sitting in the shadow of adults just to get some relief from the heat.
This tree was a haven for a group of very hot children.

After the games there were a couple of very effective drama presentations done by high school students,
and a gospel presentation in Visayan.

I love this photo -
the girl in the blue dress reminds me of the four men who brought their friend through the roof to see Jesus - she was lifting her little friend, so she could see above the crowd.

What a beautiful thing...children's heads bowed in prayer.

What does life hold for these precious little ones?  

May the good news of Christ take root in their hearts,
giving them hope, giving them life.

Then it was time to eat.
A local church had labored long
to fill containers with nutritious food.

Here's one for you, Mrs. A.!  Raisa, in the middle of all the action!
She was so tickled when I told her I'd send you the link to the photo.  
She loves and misses you!

Full tummies, happy faces.
Life doesn't get much better than this.

Unless you are also a winner of one of the many raffle prizes
donated by local business people!
won a raffle prize.  Boy, was she happy!!

All too soon it was over,
and they started the walk
or the trike ride home again.

What a joy and a privilege to be here -
to have relationships with some of these children,
to share with them just a little from the abundance we take for granted.

May the Christ of Christmas be made real to each one of them...
and to each one of us!
More real than the goodness of games and food and prizes.
For only in Him is true goodness found.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pasko Takbo (Christmas Run)

Michael and I signed-up for another fun run, so had to rise early on Saturday morning to get there at 5am!  This run was put on by the City of Davao and is one of several special events to celebrate the Christmas season.

 We had a fitness guru lead us in some stretching and calisthenics.  He sure had a lot of energy for so early in the morning.  It was pretty crowded, so we were bumping into the people around us as we performed various 'moves.'  Everyone was friendly and smiling :-)

 There were three separate events, the 10km started at 5:30am, the 5km started 10 minutes later, and finally the 3km (our event) at 5:47am.  Here's the start of the 5km.

 Ok, we're in the starting area, looking up San Pedro street.  I think there were about 1000+ runners total.  We ran together at the beginning, then dad pulled ahead a little bit, then Michael pulled ahead over the last 500m, and finished a good 10 seconds ahead of dad.

 Here we are after the race with some new friends.  We also had some refreshments; water, banana, hard boiled egg, and hot rice porridge (with fish)!  I'm not wearing my race singlet, since the XL size (biggest available) was still a little small on me.  I'm a "big" guy here in the Philippines!

 And ... Michael placed 3rd in the kids age group (12 and under).  Here he receives his medal and congratulations.  Good job Michael!  Most of the winners received a cash prize, but as the race director said, the kids received a medal and "bragging rights."

There are lots of fun runs in Davao, so come for  a visit and join us in one!

Monday, December 12, 2011

excellent free Kindle books

Today, on, 
the Kindle editions of The Holiness of God 
by R.C. Sproul
(eta: this book is now back to $9.99 - sorry if you missed it!)


Randy Alcorn's excellent book,
are both FREE!  
You don't want to miss these!

blow that horn

For the very first time Michael performed instrumentally on stage last weekend.

Michael, on trumpet, second from the left in the back row
He's loving the trumpet.
And thanks to Elise, we have some photos to mark his first concert.

The whole band performed excellently.
There's just nothing like the music of Christmas!

Keep blowing that horn, Michael, to the glory of God!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

in house concert

This group of friends got together one evening this week at our home
and filled the place with the music of carols...


I didn't want them to stop.
Unfortunately, other moms did care about undone homework.

Today they provided the accompaniment for singing of carols at a local event.
It was beautiful, ladies.

You can bring your instruments to our house anytime.