Celebrating Passover

Each year, our family celebrates the Passover by having a Seder Supper at our home.  Preparing for, meditating on, and enjoying this celebration has blessed us over the years, and if you’re considering starting this tradition at your house I can’t encourage you enough….it’s a beautiful thing.

Here are some basics to get you started, or to give you ideas for this year’s celebration…

Although the Jewish Passover might start at a different time of the month and the Seder would traditionally fall on a different day, our family’s tradition is to celebrate with Seder on the Thursday before Easter.  This follows the story of Jesus’s last supper and is a perfect way to start Easter weekend.  In the past we have used two different versions of the Haggadah, the script used during the Seder.  We have a beautiful spiral-bound Haggadah written in both Hebrew and English: A Passover Haggadah for Jewish Believers, the book is even bound on the right side since Hebrew is read that way (this is an affiliate link, I was surprised that Amazon happens to carry it because our copy is ancient).  You can find free versions online as well. You can download a full script, or a shortened children’s version for young children or for a celebration at church for Children’s Ministry.   Depending on the makeup of our group each year, we’ve sometimes re-written and shortened the original ourselves.  This year, Ann Voskamp has a wonderful shortened version that will be good for younger family members but does not leave much out.  I think we will be using her version (thanks, Ann!) but we will add a new tradition.

There are two very beautiful parts of the Haggadah that are wonderful but stretch the limits of a younger child’s attention span.  I love these traditions but don’t want the supper to become a burden to little children, wiggling in their seats.  The Dayenu is a beautiful litany of the ways that God saved the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt.  The second tradition I love happens before the second cup is taken, when a list of the 10 plagues is read aloud.  Each participant dips his or her finger into the wine and lets a drop of wine fall on their plate, one for each plague.  I’m working on a Dayenu dedicated to Christ, with each passage about Jesus read aloud by one voice and the others answering in “It would have been enough for us”.  Then, after the listing of the 10 plagues, we’ll ask everyone to think of one thing that God has delivered them from that year and we’ll praise Him for that as well.

We’ll also pause to give the unleavened bread (Matzah) special attention.  This is the tradition in which the Christian Communion was born, and the specifics of the three pieces of Matzah are so strongly Messianic that it never fails to bring a sense of awe to my heart, no matter how many times we celebrate this tradition.

My computer is limping along today, and this post has taken three times as long as it should have to write…I will be back to post this year’s menu.  Doing Seder gluten free is not hard (we just have to substitute a safe Matzah cracker and exchange gluten free flour for anything that requires wheat flour), and it’s actually to your advantage with Seder if you have to cook dairy-free!  In the meantime, here’s a gluten free menu from a previous year to get you started. 

Join Ann Voskamp for Walk with Him Wednesdays, she has wonderful ideas and photos for Seder!

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Grace in the Empty Spaces

The sanctuary is nearly empty, quiet but for the faint leaving-noises that filter in as the last people head home.  It is a warm space here in the quiet, lights low and the air seems heavier than usual, a good heavy…like a soft warm blanket around my shoulders. We are watching Eldest and his friends go through a song set on the stage. They are practicing today, the first time with a new mentor–a seasoned worship leader who has agreed to work with them once a month or so.  I can see, in the first minutes of the practice, how this will transform them…there is a spark beginning as they start to work on Phil Wickham’s Divine Romance.  Hubby, who has worked these two years with the group, leans forward in his chair and I feel his excitement grow as first the drums, then bass and rhythm guitar find their places.  A new beat changes the song, slows it, and in the spaces where the rests are there is suddenly something else…a grace, a passion.  If nature abhors a vacuum, then music abhors a wasted pause.  Without Spirit, it is only empty space…but cum spiritus the spaces take on life of their own, are more full than the notes themselves.

I see Eldest, working quietly as the others get a feel for the new rhythm.  With some encouragement, he stands and plays aloud what has been forming in his mind and through his hands…and I understand what George Harrison meant when he wrote “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.  A high, plaintive call draws from the strings, then a pause that fills so full that you can’t help but draw in a breath to feel it in your lungs, and behind that follows a low response leading into another insistent note.  The notes weave together into the pulse of the drums and the throb of the bass, the steady thrum of rhythm guitar.  They soar and dip and there’s a depth, a bittersweet longing that fills the air.  Hubby takes my hand and we know we’ve seen something happen here, that this is one of those moments of grace that transforms a person and leaves them new, different.  God is glorified in the pauses, when He is allowed to fill them.

And I am suddenly taken back, back to when Eldest was small, when his little hand fit inside mine and I carried him in my arms.  It is more than I can comprehend that this man-child, who stands there coming into his own before my eyes, was so short a time ago the little boy who ran barefoot through the warm grass, in cut-off overalls and no shirt; the warm sun wrapping a golden halo around little boy big brown eyes, rosy toddler cheeks, dimpled tiny hands wrapped tight round my finger.  The same hands that  now pull his own form of worship out of guitar strings, the same hands.  I wonder where the time went, I wonder where the time will take him.  I am excited and I am heartbroken to see him growing so, the double-edged sword that pierces every mother’s heart. 

For the moment, there is only now.  There is only music rising up, there is only grace in the empty spaces.

Writing from where I am…visit LL at Seedlings in Stone for more Mondays
On In Around button

And Laura at The Wellspring….

Planning a Baby Shower for a Chinese Adoption

 Last month I had the privilege of hosting a baby shower for a sweet friend whose family is adopting a precious little girl from an orphanage in China.  They are, in fact, in China right now…Godspeed, friends!  Praying that your travels are safe and that nothing comes between you and the joy of meeting your new daughter!

In planning for the shower, I discovered a few good resources for baby showers for international adoptions.  It’s a bit different planning an adoption shower, in our case the child will be almost two years old when she comes home, so we were not technically having a “baby” shower.  So count out all the games that involve a “baby” theme…no melted-chocolate-bar-in-the-baby-diaper games for this shower (honestly, we’d have skipped that one anyway.  It was funny the first time, folks, but really…ick!).  Also, most baby shower games and plans revolve around the mommy-to-be, and in the case of an adoption of course the mommy is not pregnant.  Which is nice for Mommy, who gets to enjoy the shower without her feet aching and without the worry that a game will be played in which her expanding girth is estimated with a piece of string and the winner gets a prize for being closest to how impressively wide the baby belly has become.  Whew.  Instead, we had the fun of adding a Chinese flare to the party!  We decided to combine “little girl” with “China” for the decorations and food.  So much fun! 

We decorated with pink and white streamers and balloons, and we used Valentine’s Day decorations throughout the house.  Pink, white and red heart-shaped paper doilies decorated the windows, and sparkly cardboard hearts were scattered across the table.  My friend brought her red-and-white checked table cloth, and I made a simple table runner out of red and white fabric.  We brought out the silver to make it pretty.  We had pink and red frosted mini cupcakes, cherry cheesecake brownies, stuffed mushrooms, and I had a great time shopping at our local Chinese Market for fun snacks!  Eggrolls, Wontons, fortune cookies (you can even have them made in different flavors, chocolate dipped, custom colors and with your own messages inside! Maybe a scripture verse tucked inside?) and some interesting  bonbons made of rice flour with sweet bean paste or fruit inside called Mochi  (gluten free, for those that are interested!). It turns out that these are actually Japanese, but they were pretty and interesting. You can find them at an Oriental market or order them online. We also asked guests to bring a favorite dessert or appetizer to share, so there was plenty of wonderful food to go around.

My favorite part of the decorating was our hanging ribbon-hearts.  I found a homeschooling website that had these great Chinese Character Cards to download for free, and printed out the cards.  Then, I chose words that were meaningful for adopting a little girl from China…words like Mother, Father, Family, Love, Girl, Courage, Pray, Dream, Treasure, Strength, Joy, Home, Heaven, Laugh.  We cut hearts out of beautiful scrapbook paper. I used the “Spring Morning” Pattern Pack, purchased at Walmart for about $5.00.  It has a nice variety of red, pink, blue and green with several patterns that reminded me of Chinese cherry blossoms.  After cutting all the hearts out, we glued different patterns together so that each heart had a pretty back and front, then we cut out our Chinese character cards and glued a character to each side of the heart.  After punching a hole at the top of each heart, we strung them on red satin ribbon and hung them as a centerpiece for the table.  After the shower, you can give the ribbon-hearts to the family to make a mobile for the baby’s room!

 During the shower, we played a few games.  There is a great game for international adoption showers here, where guests guess which language the word “baby” is written in. You can also play “Pin the [name of family] in [name of country they are adopting from] and use a big map of the world and little photos of the family.  We also played the game where you bring a tray of baby (in our case, toddler) items out, the guests get a minute to try to remember what is on the tray, and the person who can remember and write down the most items wins. Each guest was asked to write a note of advice, encouragement, or a scripture quote to the family on a heart-shaped piece of scrapbook paper.  The hearts were read aloud before we opened gifts. During the party, Middle Child led the girls in making a beautiful poster out of the same scrapbook paper we used for the hearts…we cut squares out of the paper in advance, and then had the girls choose, arrange and glue the squares to a piece of poster board.  They then glued the hearts the guests had written on in the squares to make a sort of paper quilt which we framed to give the family for their daughter’s room.

We made a list of items that the family needed for their daughter…because they did not know the exact size that she wears, we also asked that guests include a gift receipt for clothing so that they could exchange it if they needed to.  For a toddler adoption, items like sippy cups, childproofing gear, child-sized flatware, toddler toys (we all know you can’t have enough of those!), bath gear, towels, blankets, art supplies, and board books are great.   It helps to ask the parents what they need and then send that information out to the guests so that the adoptive mommy is not having to field many phone calls as to what sort of gifts would be appropriate.  Also, because many international adoptions include a mandatory donation gifts that must be given to the child’s orphanage, we asked that guests bring something for the child’s orphanage.  Ask the parents for a list that their agency provides as to what’s appropriate, as many orphanage have strict guidelines on what you can bring.  This helps the parents out in preparing to travel, and gives guests a chance to bless orphans with a little something as well!

We had a wonderful time at the shower and it was a blessing to get to host it.  If you’re here because you are looking for ideas for a shower of your own, here are some links that might help!

International games
More games
Welcoming an adopted child
Showered with Love
Babyshower for Adopting Parents
Chinese Character Cards
Fortune Cookies (design your own)

My admiration to you
who came before me, in your
dress that brushes worn plank floors
there in some cabin, far from
everyone
your hands are about laundry, your mind
about the azure sky above
scrubbing thread-bare daughter-dresses
knuckles against the washboard
and children laughing
through tall grass that waves like an ocean,
silvers in the summer sun
you, looking up
pause a moment and just breathe 
gaze over it all
with eyes adjusted to distance
and these miles and miles
of open, wide open
under all that sky
This photo, a writing-gift from friend Darlene, inspired me to write a poem.  Somehow, I saw in it the pioneers….I could see this being the view from the porch of a little log cabin in there under the scrubbed-out sky, could feel the breeze blowing and see the grass wave.  Perhaps it was because Middle Child is sitting behind me, reading Laura Ingles for the 99th time…more likely, it’s because Darlene is the closest thing to a Pioneer I’ve ever met…she, there, in her little house on the hilltop under all that sky with her horse-trough bathtub and wood cookstove, weaving words instead of stitching samplers and wearing Wranglers rather than petticoats, but?  She’s the real deal, yes she is.  And, thank you, friend, for a reason to write!

Some Sweet Reminders

The box came right away, so quickly that it was not at all on my radar and it took me a moment to realize what was sitting on our doorstep…a package from Dayspring, containing items for me to review for (in)spired Deals!  I brought it in and set it on my kitchen table.

I know it may sound strange, but it was like a little ray of sunshine for me to see that package.  I don’t thrive this time of year…the landscape is brown and gray, the weather dreary, the sun too far away.  I’ve been suffering from a lack of words, and writing has not come easily. The opportunity to try out some Dayspring items and get to write about them was one that really raised my spirits! The girls were curious, excited to see what was in the little brown cube.  I made us all wait a day…I wanted to have plenty of time to savor this little treat properly.  The box sat on the table, and the anticipation built.

The next morning was much like the last…the sun wearily struggling to make it through all that white/gray, diffused and weak.  But we had something special to do.  Honestly?  It was a little hard for me to let the girls open the package instead of doing it myself.  But their delight was even better than getting to cut through that packing tape myself…isn’t that the best thing about a gift?

And inside:  Sunshine!  I know that God loves me and that I am precious to Him.  It’s my mantra, it has so blessed me that I do my best to spend as much time as I can telling other women in my life the same thing…blogging about it, writing about it, through email and facebook, talking earnestly over a cup of warm coffee.  I was even blessed by a chance last month to give a room full of women that very message.  It’s on my heart, because…honestly?  Sometimes I know how much God loves me, but I don’t know how much God loves me.  Does that make sense?  I. Need. Reminding. Maybe we all do.

Can a little thing like a few words on canvas, a coffee cup, really make a difference?  I don’t know what answer I would have given you a few days ago, but today I am telling you:  Yes!  You know, I think we need to be reminded about that.  I think we need to surround ourselves with reminders about that…that God loves us perfectly, completely, passionately.  It makes a difference:  A bouquet of flowers on the mantle, a note of encouragement written on pretty paper, a coffee cup with a gentle reminder that “She didn’t have to be perfect because she was….Perfectly Loved.”

The cups are pretty, they feel good in your hand.  And they remind me that the perfection my heart wants to strive for is already there…but I don’t have to achieve it.  It’s there in the way God loves me, in the plan God has for me, and in the peace that waits for those who embrace His perfect Love.

I love the canvas block, too…the message is “Loved by God, just as I am.  Made in His image, part of His plan” It is sturdy, a solid block rather than canvas over a frame.  Although you can hang it on the wall, I chose to place it on a table in our dining room by the clock. It is heavy and wide enough that there’s no danger of it tipping over…and it looks good next to the jar of red ribbons and Chinese words that hung at a friend’s baby shower, she is adopting a toddler this month from China.  And a package of forget-me-not seeds…. sweet promises of Spring and new beginnings.

The cups came with cute gift tags, in individual boxes.  They would make amazing gifts for a friend (what about hosting a book study with Holley Gerth’s new book, “You’re Already Amazing,” and gifting the participants with these matching mugs!).  And there are other canvas blocks with encouraging messages available at Dayspring, so you can scatter these sweet reminders throughout your home.

There are blessings in the little things in life, in the beautiful reminders that God loves you…He cares about every tiny detail in your day, and He wants you to remember that you are loved in a way not even fully comprehensible to us.  I love how God orchestrates things, that I have spent the last weeks in thought about how God loves us, how God’s love changes us, and how his perfect love calls us to action.  And in the mail, here was a sweet reminder of that very thing…a reminder that pulls my heart back when the rush and push of the world makes me forget.  It gives me something else to look forward to, meeting God in the quiet moments before the day begins– The Bible, a cup of dark, warm coffee….and on the cup a scarlet word reminding me that I’m not just meeting Him here, but that He was also waiting for me.

Dayspring provided me with the chance to review these items by sending them to me for free.  The opinions above represent my own thoughts on these products.  You know what?  I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity!  

Rahab’s Story: How He Loves Us (part 3)

This is the final part of the written version of a talk I did at church.  See parts One and Two first.

Rahab’s wall still stands…photo http://www.oxfordbiblechurch.co.uk

Women of Faith experience God’s provision. This is my favorite part of Rahab’s story!  Rahab was a nobody, and she was a nobody with a history.  She was a prostitute, and everyone knew it.  She lived in the wrong part of town, had no status, and nobody cared about her.  She was a former pagan from a city that God allowed to be completely destroyed, a city that He used to show His mighty power in defense of His chosen people, a city that would stand as an example throughout time of God’s power over even the strongest human endeavors. 

Rahab did no great act to show her faith, she did something that was hard and most defiantly risky but certainly nothing miraculous.  She was an ordinary woman, caught up in ordinary every-day life, doing nothing unusual when God chose to include her in His plan.  Yet!  God used her mightily!  He singled Rahab out, from a city where many other women could have been chosen instead.  Women with better, less messy histories.  Women with more courage.  Women with more status.  But God chose Rahab.  He reached down, chose her, and He saved her!  Here is what happened next:

 Joshua 6:20-25
When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.  Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.” So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel. Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the LORD’s house. But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.

Excavations at Jericho show that the walls did indeed fall…outward!  This is important, because Jericho had been build with a steep glacis around it, a ramp of smooth rock and earth that was hard to climb up.  Above the ramp was the first wall, then Rahab’s neighborhood, and a second wall around the inner city.  Had the walls fallen inward, it would have still been hard for the Israelites to make it into Jericho…but when the walls fell outward, it created a stone ramp that allowed the army to simply climb up into the city.

Where was Rahab?  Huddled there behind her scarlet cord with her family around her, she had a front row seat to the army marching around the city seven times.  How could marching cause the walls to fall?  What was this God doing?  What a week that must have been.

And then…the walls fell.  But archaeologists at Jericho have found something interesting…a part of the North wall of the city, where from Biblical account we can assume Rahab lived, still stands!  Can you imagine?  How must she have felt, amid the noise and dust and fear, there in the one part of the wall still standing when she realized that God had saved her? 

Then, in an act that says such profound things about God’s heart, Rahab was placed in the chain of lives that is part of the ancestry of Jesus himself!  God chose Rahab to be in the bloodline of the King of Kings, the Messiah, the only Son of God.  She had no Hebrew roots, God adopted her and made her just as Hebrew as Abraham and Moses.  Rahab had a terrible past, God washed that away and saw her as worthy to be the great-great grandmother of King David himself, and the great-grandmother (about 35 greats removed) of Jesus Christ!  What does that say about God?  I think God wants to be sure that we know that it is by faith and faith alone…not by works and not by heritage and not by any other means…that we are saved.

What does this say about you

Hebrews 11:31 says that “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.”

Ephesians 2:8 tells us:  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.

Some of us are carrying deep scars from our past.  Some of us feel like we are inferior because we come from a faith background that is full of guilt, or lies.  Some of us struggle because we are new at this, and come from a place of no faith at all.  Maybe you feel like your gifts are too small to be of any use to God, or your faith is too weak.  But God used Rahab in the mighty way He did to tell us something:  We are each precious, worthy, and valuable to Him!  God loves us and He can use us just as mightily no matter what our past looks like and no matter what our feelings of courage happen to be right now. 

God is a God who adopts us and forgets our prior bloodline, a God who forgives us and forgets our prior sin, a God who uses us despite our weak flesh and failing courage…if we give him just the tiniest thread of faith.

There is a Chinese proverb that says, “A red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place or circumstance.  The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break”.  From a Christian perspective, the legend of the red thread means so much more.  It means that as believers, our lives are connected for all eternity by a scarlet cord of faith, that we are adopted into the same family as all the women of the Bible, the family of Rahab, the family of Jesus Himself!  It means that we are loved in a way that makes our past completely forgiven and our future as precious daughters of God assured.

This kind of love is not just a promise, not just a comfort to fall back on.  This kind of love is a call to action!  If God loves us in this way, we are called to do the same for others.   Knowing God’s heart for us and the amazing love He bears for us…despite who and what we once were…what can you do in response to His call to love others in the same way?

Here are some resources of you’d like to know more about Jericho:
                   watch Jericho Unearthed at ExpeditionBible.com 
                   The Walls of Jericho at Biblearcheology.org
                   The Story of Rahab at Oxfordbiblechurch.co.uk
                   More on the Walls at israel-a-history-of.com
                   The Walls of Jericho at Biblearcheology.org

Rahab’s Story: How He Loves Us (part 2)

This is a continuation of This Post, a written version of a talk I gave at church.

Women of faith express desperate prayer.  Rahab was in a terrible situation.  Stuck there between the walls of Jericho, waiting for a God she’d just met to rescue her.  She must have paced those stone floors, wondering if she’d done the right thing and desperate to know how this would all turn out.  We know that Rahab had been a pagan and the Bible does not say how or even if she prayed.  For all we know, she may have responded to her plight by going next door and sacrificing the neighbor’s cat!  I’d like to think, though, that she responded by reaching out to the God she’d chosen to put her hope in, that she prayed and cried out to Him in her desperate situation.

Do you remember that first prayer you prayed?  Maybe a prayer cried out to God in despair, asking Him to show Himself, to move in a way that you can see Him, know His presence.  When we pray this way, when we cry out to him and place it all in His hands, trust Him with our deepest needs…God responds.  Sometimes we don’t get what we’re desperate for, we just get the strength to go on despite that.  But this sort of prayer blesses us in that it draws us closer to a loving Father who longs to comfort us, to hold us close.

There are times when things are going well, when we are not aware of our need for God, when we forget to cry out to him and place our complete trust in Him.  It’s so easy for our prayer life to become stagnate, to fall into rote recitation or become nothing more than an item on our to-do list. We lose something precious when this happens, something vital to our faith.  Psalm102:1 says “Hear my prayer, Lord; let my cry for help come to you.” 

How can you renew your prayer life?  Even when things are going well in our lives, we still need God desperately.  We can pray for other desperate needs, for the nations, for those in our lives who are suffering, for the needs of those who can’t (or won’t!) pray themselves.  We can pray that God will help us learn to seek him with all our hearts, in all situations.

Women of faith keep their promises.  Rahab had great faith!  We often think of people who have great faith as people who are doing amazing things….David slaying Goliath, Abraham walking up that dusty hill to sacrifice his son Issac, a family selling everything they own to go to some inhospitable place and share the Good News.  In Rahab’s case, she made a simple promise that she would not give away the spies she’d just met.  In return, she was told that a God she’d just met through a people she’d only heard stories about (and you can bet they weren’t warm, fuzzy stories!) would rescue her and her family from a coming disaster.

All Rahab needed to do was tie a simple scarlet cord in her window and wait for deliverance.  Remember the Israelites in Egypt?  How they waited that night, huddled behind doors marked with the crimson blood of perfect lambs, waiting for the angel of death to pass them by?  I think of Rahab in the same way, waiting there behind the protection of God’s scarlet mark.  Sometimes faith is an army, massing outside of seemingly impossible walls, ready to take action on the conviction of God’s promise.  And sometimes faith is a thin, worn scrap of cord dangling, exposed and raveled, against cold stone.  Sometimes it takes just as much faith to get up in the  morning and let your feet hit the floor as it does to pack your suitcase (and your underwear!) full of Bibles and head to China.  But God loves both kinds of faith, He knows where you are and He values your faith no matter how small it may feel.

All Rahab did was tie a cord in her window.  She took no amazing action beyond tying a knot…something she must have done every day!  She was not brave, we know this because she lied to the officials that the king of Jericho sent regarding the spies, rather than boldly speaking the truth (and surely God would have honored that and used it for good).  But God knew Rahab’s heart!  This simple kind of faith, the barely hanging on by a thread kind of faith, would be greatly rewarded.  She kept her promise…however small…in faith, and was saved.

How are you doing with keeping promises?  Are you experiencing the ‘invading army’ kind of faith right now, or the ‘hanging by a thread’ type? 

Next:  God’s Provision