Sunday, December 24

Making New Traditions

This past week has been very busy! I'm sure everyone's in the same boat. We made chocolate bark, decorated sugar cookies, shopped for food, crafted our Christmas dinner menu, finished decorating, wrapped presents, shopped for more food, welcomed guests, and ate enough sugar to sink the Titanic. And it isn't even Christmas yet!

Josh's parents, sister, and grandmother are visiting us this week, and we're really enjoying the company. Papa is working on another remodeling project (this time, the master bathroom), and Grandma brought enough fun projects to keep Kaden busy for a few weeks. Papa and Grandma see who can keep Kaden's attention the longest. So far, hammers and drills are enough to distract him from sugar cookies (Is he really my son?!).

Since this is the first year that Kaden can really dialogue about Christmas and start to grasp what it's all about, I've been thinking a lot about family traditions and how we want to celebrate the day. It seems hard to balance the present factor (me-me-me) with the fact that Christmas is really a celebration of Christ's birth.

One thing that we're doing this year came from a forward I received from a friend. Here it is:


It's just a small white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so.

It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas --oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it-- the overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma -- the gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything else.

Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties, and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way. Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church.

These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler's ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.

Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't acknowledge defeat! .

Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, "I wish just one of them could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them." Mike loved kids -- all kids -- and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball, and lacrosse.

That's when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church.

On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas this at year and in succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition -- one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on. The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.

As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn't end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning it was joined by three more. Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope.

Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us. May we all remember Christ, who is the reason for the season, and the true Christmas spirit this year and always.

I love this idea. Giving instead of receiving. Others instead of me. I think it honors Christ's birthday and the way he lived his life in a way I've never done before and in a way I want to teach my kids. Are there presents under our tree? Yes, of course. But there will also be a white envelope on our tree this remind us that we're not just here on this earth for us. I hope this story may inspire some of you, too.

From our house to yours, Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 23

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Just wanted to give a Happy Birthday greeting to my mom. Today's her special day!

Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you!

Saturday, December 16


I love this song by Greg Ferguson (of Willow Creek fame). It characterizes God in some ways that I've never seen anywhere else. As we're all gearing up for Christmas, I wanted to share these words for you to ponder in the next few days leading up to the big day. They're simple, but so beautiful! I hope they touch you, too.

"Peacemaker, Fear taker,
Soul soother, Storm smoother,
Mind clearer, Sigh hearer,
Hand holder, Consoler,
Light shiner, Lost finder,
Cloud lifter, Deliverer,
Would binder, Tear drier,
Strength giver, Provider,
Heart toucher, Truth lover,
Heart healer, Kind father,

Who other could be...
Fear taker, My Savior, Peacemaker to me?"

Sunday, December 10

Ropes of Kindness and Love

The kids and I played hooky from church today because we're all recovering from yet another head cold. Josh volunteered in the media booth, so he had to leave home at 6am this morning. Unfortunately, he didn't get home from work until about 1am last night and is at work again tonight. Poor guy. ;-( He does love volunteering at Cross Point, though -- it's just hard when an early morning is sandwiched in between two nights of work.

Anyway, I was reading my one-year Bible this morning, and this verse jumped out at me:

Hosea 11:4 - "I led Israel along with my ropes of kindness and love. I lifted the yoke from his neck, and I myself stooped to feed him."

What an encouraging glimpse of God's character! Does anyone else other than me sometimes (okay, regularly) need reassurance that God is going to continue meeting our needs, leading us along with his ropes of kindness and love? I know that I do! No matter how he's come through for me in the past, my human heart is shamefully forgetful. I hate to admit it, but it's true.

I love Bible verses that give us visual pictures, and this one definitely qualifies. I imagine a cord reaching from heaven right into my life, an invisible cord that has been there my whole life and is woven into the intricacies of each blessing and each decision that has brought me to today.

Josh and I have talked recently about how the nature of our work (day jobs, night jobs, and regular leaps of faith) makes it obvious to us that God has "stooped to feed us" many times over the past two years. Although part of me misses the "security" of a 9-5 salaried job, I can see that our self-employment jobs are a blessing because they tie us directly back to God's gracious hand -- freelancing projects, new clients, and generous tips at the restaurant. We don't necessarily have a company or boss to attribute our finances to, so our gratitude goes directly to God.

But...I think that direct tie is also why I worry sometimes -- worried that I'll do something wrong to cut off his grace or that he'll change his mind about me or about meeting my needs. This verse tells me that it's not about me. It's about HIS kindness, HIS love. And on this side of the Cross, it's all about Jesus' righteousness that makes me worthy of God's love.

If, like me, concern or worry [gasp!] ever grips your heart, know that God has lifted that yoke from your neck. Trust that his ropes of kindness and love will lead you along the right path he intends for your life. I fully expect that part of his love will lead me through difficult times in order to grow me and shape me. And that's okay.

I am so grateful for the way God uses his Word to directly answer prayers and remind me of what an amazing Father he is.

You don't have to comment here, but just think about this: how have you seen God's ropes of kindness and love weaving through your life and holding you up at just the right times?

Thursday, December 7

The Blended Salad

A few days ago, Shelley Fuge, one of my friends from Cedarville U., posted about her new, healthy treat: a Blended Salad.

Now, although it may sound weird, I thought it would be perfect for me because I have been having such a hard time coaxing myself to eat raw veggies for the past year or so (I do much better with cooked). While I was pregnant with Laney, raw veggies made me nauseous, and I guess I got out of the habit b/c I still haven't really incorporated them back into my diet very well. I used to eat a big salad for lunch every single day, but that takes a lot of time to prepare and chew, chew, chew. And honestly, I don't really have a half hour to devote to just feeding myself at lunchtime. Or dinnertime, for that matter. I do sit down and eat, but when I make a big plate of salad, I can't seem to make it the whole way through it without getting distracted.

So when I saw those raw veggies blended up in a smoothie, I thought, "Eureka!" :-) Now, I'm sure this is not the miracle pill or something that will instantly make me lose these 15 pounds of weight from my pregnancy, but hey -- it's worth a shot. I'll tell you this...I've had two of these shakes, and I am seriously already feeling healthier. It may be psychological, and my logic may be faulty, but I'm thinking this is the best way for me, at least at this busy point in my life, to get in a great big serving of fresh veggies. I can cart my cup around with me from room to room as I change diapers and run after a toddler. And it's good for me!

Here's Shelley's recipe:

A fistful of Spinach
1 Cup of Rice Dream (found in the dairy section, but not a dairy product)
1 1/2 Cups of Frozen Fruit
1 Cup pre-blended Romaine Lettuce
2-3 Tbsp. Flaxseed
Optional: Carrots and anything else healthy

Now here are my changes: Whatever kind of milk you drink will work. I nixed the romaine and added more spinach. The first night, I added half of a small tomato. Bananas are highly recommended to sweeten up the spinach. And I also have to admit that I put a approx. 1/2 T. of honey in there. I think I can phase that out as I get used to drinking vegetables. :-)

So that's it! Oh, and I have to add that Kaden even drank some the first night. I cut it with half milk, but hey -- I'm happy about any veggies making it into his little body. [He actually said to me a few days ago, "I don't like green." ...meaning veggies. He won't even take one bite!]

Try it, okay? Let me know how it goes.

Friday, December 1

Christmastime is Here Again!

Well, it's Christmas in the Hesse house. We started decorating our tree a few days before Thanksgiving, and we finished it about 2 days ago. [Yes, it took us a week just to decorate it. We had to do it in small spurts to work around the kiddos.] As you can see from the pictures, the tree is currently presentless, but that problem will quickly be remedied when a certain minivan from New York carrying 2 grandparents, 1 great-grandparent, and 1 aunt arrives before Christmas Day.

You may not believe it, but Santa actually loans a few of his reindeer to the Hesses since these world travelers are used to carrying sleighs full of presents for every child in the universe. Yes, we're talking a lot of presents. As in, "We each brought 2 sets of clothes...and the rest is all presents." Plus, I'm sure a few presents will find their way under the tree even before they arrive. It's great to have doting grandparents and great-grandparents, and we're fortunate to have many on both sides of the family. And for more reasons than just Christmas presents, of course!

Back to the issue at hand -- the tree. I'm posting two pics here so you can see it in all its glory. Yes, it's artificial. I know, I know -- where's the authentic Christmas spirit in an artificial tree?! But for those of us with sensitive skin and a weird allergy to evergreens, my skin and lungs thank me for insisting on a fake tree. Plus, no water bowl to keep the kids out of! Josh and I both like that little perk. Maybe one of these years when the kids are older and could enjoy a tree-hunting trip to find the perfect tree I will try to tolerate a live tree again. But for now, it's fake all the way.

My husband says I'm a scrooge, and compared to him, is true. However, I am really enjoying the twinkling lights and listening to Christmas music on the radio and looking forward to sharing Christ's birthday with my family. Christmas is in the air!