Deck the Halls with Strings of Paper

This is by no means a recent project, but it’s simple and pretty enough to post now anyway.

I made this Christmas anytime garland over Thanksgiving break when I found myself with a whole week without classes and a craving something creative. I’ve recently become enamored with garlands as a way to add simple color and interest to a room. So I cranked up the Christmas carols and followed a tutorial from education.com. All you need is paper (any kind will do), scissors, a stapler, tape, and a needle and thread. The tutorial gives a very specific size of paper to start with, but I decided that mine didn’t need to be so exact so I started with various sized rectangles cut from magazine papers (by far my favorite colorful medium to use for crafts). It meant that my stars did not end up uniform in size, but I liked that.

After I had finished making the stars, I threaded them together and hung them on our mantle. With all the busyness from school, work, changing jobs, and traveling home for Christmas, this ended up being the only Christmas decorations I put up this year, other than our collection of Christmas cards. I liked the color it added to our mantle, though, and left it up even after Christmas was over. Because stars aren’t strictly for Christmas, right? That’s what I thought :-).

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A Materialistic Post (But One in Which I Get Some Pretty Awesome Thrift Store Deals)

I generally don’t think of myself as a materialistic sort of person. Malls give me a headache. I don’t feel drawn to the latest fancy shmancy new technological gadgets (okay, except maybe cameras….).  I love handmade and recycled things. I want to live simply. And realistically, I know I’m called to a lifestyle that means being fairly poor – materially speaking – for the rest of my life. And I’m happy with that. Really.

But…..recently I’ve been kind of discouraged. About my clothes of all things. In fact, some days I’ve been downright grumpy about them. The thing is, I haven’t bought winter clothes for myself since….well, since I moved out of my parents house over four years ago. Everything I wear are clothes I’ve had since then (and were probably a hand-me-downs to begin with) or came from someone’s discard pile (don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the people who have given me clothes and I’ve received some nice things, but they aren’t necessarily what I would have picked out). And it’s been over a year since I bought jeans. And I’ve lost weight this past year so most of most of my clothes are too big. Or worn out. Or both. So I’ve been wearing old, worn out hand-me-downs that aren’t really my style and don’t even fit (whine, whine, whine….)

See? I told you I was grumpy about it. And then I’d feel guilty for feeling grumpy about it, because they’re just clothes….and appearances aren’t everything….and there are so many more important things to worry about….and I should be grateful for what I have, right? But dang it, sometimes I just want to feel pretty. Most days, though, I feel worn out, ill-fitting, and frumpy. Yes, frumpy. But with just my income right now and higher bills then ever, I couldn’t even justify going to the thrift store to buy new things because we just didn’t have money for extras (insert more whining). I tried to alter some of my old clothes to make them more wearable but my sewing skills are still pretty elementary and the finished products weren’t much better than the originals.

So when Derek’s mom sent us some money for Christmas, with the instructions “Buy something you wouldn’t normally get”, I began thinking wistfully of all the clothes I could buy with that. Which made me wince a bit, because clothes would be selfish. Buying myself clothes wouldn’t benefit the house, or even Derek (though hopefully he’d appreciate me looking nice), or anyone else. It would just be for myself. When Derek asked if I had any idea what we should spend our Christmas money on, I hesitated for a minute, then finally admitted, “Well, I know this probably doesn’t sound very fun and exciting, but…what I’ve really been wishing for is some new jeans and sweaters….because none of mine really fit anymore….and I’ve actually been feeling kind of grumpy about it for a while….so maybe we could use some of it for that?” There, it was out (materialistic clang and all). Derek smiled and said yeah, we could do that.

So today we went out for coffee together and then headed over to a thrift store in Johnson Country, recommended to us because it’s in a nicer area where more people donate to thrift stores and less people shop at them. We spent several hours browsing through the store, carefully perusing aisles and weighing options, and in the end came home with:

– 5 sweaters (two thick, warm ones that can be worn over lots of things, one light cardigan, and two thinner sweaters that are still warm enough that they can be worn alone – and happen to be brown and teal, two of my favorite colors)
– 2 pairs of jeans that fit
– 1 pair of nicer brown pants, which also fit (and can be worn to work)
– 1 pair of classy black leather boots (I’ve been looking for a pair of nice, low-heeled boots for a year and a half with no luck, so I was pretty excited about those. Now I can wear skirts again).
– 1 pair of nice tennis shoes for Derek (Nike ones at that)
– 1 pair of corduroy pants for Derek
– 3 t-shirts for Derek

All for under $40 (thanks to their holiday special, everything but the shoes were half-off). Which is still the most I’ve ever spent at a thrift store, but a good deal nonetheless considering everything we got.

So there you go. I went on a shopping spree today (albeit a thrift store one). But tomorrow when I wake up I get to put on clothes that fit and look nice. And materialistic though that may be, it makes me pretty happy at the moment.

Emmanuel, Our God With Us

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.”

(John 1:14, The Message)

We highlighted this passage on our Christmas cards this year. It seemed to fit. This fall (and now into the winter) we have seen that glory with our own eyes, the glory of the Word made flesh and blood and moved into our neighborhood, into our house even.

On Sunday, as we sang, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, I reflected on this profound reality of Emmanuel, our God with us. He chose to become flesh and take up residence with us, not in the flesh of a king or emperor, rich or powerful. Instead He chose the flesh and blood of a baby, tender and needy, born to the scandal of an unwed mother. Yet here was the Messiah, our Savior, Emmanuel with us, and the whole earth trembled at the profound greatness of His coming.

And now here we are, sharing a house with another young unwed mother and her two beautiful children, born to that same scandal, yet full of the grace of Christ. I can see His face in these little ones. Emmanuel. God with us.

Last week we took in another young mom, just sixteen years old, and her new baby for several days while she worked out some things with her family (I’m finding that any sort of plan I have for ministry collapses into the simple plan of saying yes to the doors God opens and trusting that He’s going to meet us there). The house churned with life and I spent hours each day just sitting and talking, eating together, playing games together (a new and profound experience of family for Ashley), just taking it all in. And there He was in the midst of us again. Emmanuel. God with us.

In the turmoil of scandal, in the face of the outcast, in the eyes of a child who needs everything, there You are. Emmanuel. God with us, right in my own home, running down my hallways, sharing my food, greeting me as I come and go, leaving sticky fingerprints on tables. Oh so very much with us. Emmanuel living in our house.

Isn’t this what He promised, when He said, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18) and “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40)? This is where Emmanuel dwells and here He invites us to join Him at His home, to meet with Him there.

Of course, this Christmas rolled in with a short (and mostly sleepless) night and some drama that filled me with about as much “Christmas spirit” as Scrooge (bah humbug!), the sobering reminder of our still-present brokenness, even in the midst of that revelation of the reality of God’s presence with us. Even in the wrestling, though, God is still present. Emmanuel is with us. Yes (and I repeat this as much for myself as for anyone else), Emmanuel IS with us. We still carry this treasure in jars of clay and the work isn’t complete. We still need Him, so much more of Him. And so we both mourn and rejoice as we sing:

“O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”