Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Candy Corn Reflections

[what's brewing: gratitude, does that sound corny?]

One of the family Thanksgiving traditions that I particularly cherish is the time that we take to reflect genuinely on all that we are thankful for. Each guest at the Thanksgiving table has a simple garnishing of three pieces of candy corn waiting on their yet-to-be-filled plate. With everyone in their seats, each guest shares three things that they are particularly thankful for, one per piece of candy corn. As a young child, my siblings, cousins and I usually had fairly similar ‘thankful’ lists: family, God and the opportunity to go to school or something along those lines.

One favorite memory is of my little brother sitting down at the table, dressed up as a Native American with a fully feathered headdress (made of construction paper). Studying Native Americans in school, he was particularly excited about Thanksgiving that year. He proudly shared with us that he was thankful for God, for his family, and “for Squanto who became friends with the Pilgrims so that we could have this yummy Thanksgiving dinner, except for mashed potatoes that make me throw up.”

I remember shifting a bit uncomfortably when aunts and uncles, parents or grandparents would shed a few tears as they talked, so moved by the gratitude they were expressing. I knew that I only cried when I was sad, and I was too young to have any alternative understanding of those tears. I knew I was growing up when I came home from college to celebrate Thanksgiving and found myself tearing up as I expressed my gratitude for my family after saying goodbye to several friends who preferred to stay alone in the dorms than willingly subject themselves to the chaos of their family life.

This year I find that I am impacted again by the experience of moving to another country and engaging in such challenging and rewarding work. My understanding of gratitude has been shaped and molded by the many answers to prayers we’ve experienced, as well as the many unanswered prayers that have left us wondering and waiting. The fickle nature of my own heart in the face of seemingly unheard prayers has been challenged by the song Gratitude by Nichole Nordeman. The chorus of this song brilliantly depicts the gratitude of a heart in the face of unmet needs:

We'll give thanks to You
With gratitude
For lessons learned in how to thirst for You
How to bless the very sun that warms our face
If You never send us rain

I confess that I struggle to give thanks despite the continued suffering and sickness around me, but this song has been a reminder and a guide as I seek to expand my gratitude in the midst of unmet needs.

This week my family will be gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving, starting with their candy corn reflections. We’ll be celebrating here, carrying on the tradition in a far away land as we express our gratitude together. My candy corn reflections of gratitude for this year are:

1. Living here in the city where we fell in love, surrounded by reminders of those blissful summer months, I am continually grateful for Jason. He is my husband, counselor and best friend. I think I would have gone home by now if it were not for him.

2. Living thousands of miles away has given me a new awareness of the depth of gratitude that I have for my family, for the ways they love and support us so well even from a large distance. My gratitude for my family has deepened exponentially through our work with orphaned and abandoned children who do not know the safety and comfort of being loved and protected by their families.

3. Our work with these children, each with traumatic backgrounds, and involvement in a community afflicted by poverty makes me grateful each day for the redemptive work of Christ and the hope for the future that this provides even in the face of unmet needs and unanswered prayers.

What are your candy corn reflections this week?

Monday, November 17, 2008

This One's for the Goodies!

Yahoo! I received 6 entries for the Fall Challenge #2 from all over the world. I love each and everyone's ideas and photos...thanks for taking the time to write in. And now, let the games begin. Everyone is invited to vote on their favorite by going over to the right sidebar and marking your vote in this week's poll.

I encourage all the women who entered to get ALL their friends to vote (for them). Remember the winner will be announced next Tuesday and the goodies (pecans, pumpkin filling and chocolate chips) will be mailed directly within a few days to hopefully reach the winner by Christmas!

Contestant # 1: Sarah, Botswana

My husband and I have served overseas in Botswana, Africa for almost 5 years now. While we swelter in over 100 degree temps you would never know walking into my home. We always decorate and celebrate as much as we would if we were in the US. Over the years I’ve learned to become very creative during the holidays and often times start asking for certain things to be sent over starting in July! Now that I have my own little one, it’s even more important to us to make sure that we keep our traditions alive. This year we hosted a “Harvest Party” for the Missionary Families. We baked goodies and the kids even did a bit of “trick or treating” in the house with their famous Shoprite bags. This picture is of me with “the spread”.

Contestant #2: Angie, Bolivia
My name is Angie. I serve in Bolivia, South America. Pictured here I am holding a mixing bowl ready for baking oatmeal cookies; the kids help me make mountains of cookies. Next, I painted and sent out advent candles to my family around the globe. We remember each other as we burn down one number a day from December 1st to the 25th. Lastly, you see a screen shot of an online radio station that streams Christmas music so I don't miss out on all the new songs; and it is English. Happy Holidays to all my Coffeegirl gals!

Contestant #3: Diane, Costa Rica

Fall in Costa Rica is non-existent as it will be in Ecuador’s jungle. The preschool teacher in me came out and I cut leaf shapes and attached them with thread to the window sill at different lengths. I found this vine wreath discarded on the side of the road, decorated it for fall with cut out foam leaves and substituted a green squash for a pumpkin, then transformed it again into winter. We hail from Maine and are spending a year in Costa Rica at language school before we head out to Shell, Ecuador. Like Coffeegirl said sometimes it’s the little things you bring from home. My mom and daughter-in-law sent down real pressed leaves!

Contestant #4: Ginny, RAC

The day before Halloween, my 2 little teammates and I headed out to get a pumpkin (which we heard would be no problem finding). We went to the closest market – nothing. So we made the 20 minute trip to the grocery store – nothing. Finally we went to another outdoor market that I knew would have pumpkins. Little did I know that [in this country] pumpkins are cut up and sold by the kilo for meat dishes. So we improvised as you can see by the picture. They had a blast and didn’t seem to notice their pumpkin was green and striped.

Contestant #5: Crystal, Thailand

First of all, I make pumpkin pies with homemade pumpkin pie filling (lots of them...this batch of two was for a Mom's Group Thanksgiving meal we were having (all of them are non-believers). I shared what Thanksgiving is and why, we as Christians give thanks. I then had them write what they were thankful for and why on some leaf cutouts and then we shared together. I am in the back (in the turquoise shirt) in the picture with all the Thai women who come to our Mom's Group.

I also decorate with our homemade cornucopia (from two years ago) and thanks to our parents we have a fresh bag of "spice pumpkin" potpourri to make the house smell like fall. . In the picture, I have the little leaves the women wrote on with their words of "thanks" to God surrounding the cornucopia.

And, this year, my oldest son and I made a Pilgrim hat and an Indian headband. Lots of fun! =) (Pictures attached of oldest son, PJ, sporting the Pilgrim hat and youngest son, Calvin aka "Squanto". We also watch A Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving and The Mayflower Voyagers (another Peanuts cartoon but it's quite educational!). We usually get together with our teammates on Thanksgiving Day and have a feast (usually without the turkey) but it's a feast all the same! We reflect of God's goodness and faithfulness and thank HIM for His great salvation and the work He is doing in our lives.

Contestant #6: Shan, Japan

Hello from Japan! I like to go to Starbucks -- confession, I do not like coffee!-- and buy a hot chocolate. Then I go across the street to the walking path which is lined with trees. I purposely walk through the fallen leaves, even going off the path sometimes, just like my sister and I used to do on our way to and from school when we were little. It is even better when it is a crisp, cool day!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

'tis the season, right?

[what's brewing: pumpkin spice latte]

No matter the warm weather, blue skies and blossoming trees around me, everything inside of me firmly believes that it is fall. I doubt I will ever naturally think of spring when I turn my calendar over to the month of November. Knowing the time would come when my seasonal expectations and seasonal reality would conflict, I packed a scented candle into my bag last summer despite the precious weight it consumed in my allotted 50 pounds per bag.

I pulled the candle out last week, enjoying the familiar aroma that fills my house as it burns.

The bag of candy corn we’ve been snacking on has helped to create a pseudo sense of autumn as well. But the lingering disparity between my internal sense of fall and the seasonal elements around me has me thinking about things I can do to help create a sense of familiarity and enjoyment of this time of year in such a different setting.

I used to satisfy my fall cravings with slices of pumpkin loaf, hot cups of apple cider, brisk walks in the cool air, crunching the dry leaves that pile up on the sidewalk and turning my sights toward holiday preparations. Now, I must expand my considerations and create a new sense of the fall (and eventually Christmas!) season within my home.

This leads me to my next Coffeegirl Challenge #2!

This week, I’m asking you to submit photos of what you’re doing to create a sense of familiarity during the holiday season, whether you’re south of the equator or living through the fall season far from home and familiar customs. Be sure to include yourself in the photo and send along a brief (100 word max) description or comment to post with your picture. Next week the photos will be displayed here and we’ll ask you to vote for your favorite one.

The winner will receive a special holiday package of pumpkin filling, pecans and chocolate chips for your holiday baking!

Photos should be emailed to editor@womenoftheharvest.com by Monday, November 17, 2008 at 9:00am Mountain Standard Time (2 hours behind East Coast time).

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

If You Can Read This...

[what's brewing: double shot of fun!]

You’re Invited to
The Coffeegirl Book Club

Could you use more than your weekly Tuesday fix of interaction with other Coffeegirl Regulars? If yes, you’ll be glad to know that soon we’ll be offering a supplemental posting every week through The Coffeegirl Book Club.

Who? Coffeegirl Readers
What? Online book club
When? January 2009
Where? coffeegirlconfessions.blogspot.com
Why? To read, discuss and learn together.

Though I’ve always been drawn to the concept of a book club, I have never been part of one before. I thought that moving to another country would finish off any possibility of ever participating in one, but with a bit of creative thinking I’m now joining (and hosting!) this blog-based book club. No, we may not have the luxury of convening in each other’s homes or a local coffee shop to discuss our reading, but the idea of readers from across the world participating from their own living rooms, cozied up with their own cups of coffee or tea now seems even more appealing to me. It’s another level of connection as we come together to share our thoughts and learn from one another.

The inaugural book for this club is A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken. It’s a favorite of mine and my tattered copy was a “must bring” item when we packed our bags to head to the field. I stumbled upon the book at a mid-summer yard sale just over 6 years ago. It was one of many books thrown in a box and marked “25 cents”, which I admit was the initial bait that sent me searching through the titles. This one caught my attention and the black and white photo of the couple, along with the brief description on the back page, closed the deal. I found many aspects of myself in the pages of this book and it has become a central piece in the literary landscape of my life.

For those who have read it, come again and turn the pages with us. For those who’ve never read it, the powerful love story and the deep grappling with the difficult questions of life and faith will draw you in. To whet your appetite, I’ll share with you the brief description that I read that hot summer day:

Sheldon “Van” Vanauken and Jean “Davy” Vanauken were lucky enough to discover that radiant love so often written of in books, so seldom found in real life. Van and Davy got married, crossed oceans and became inextricably bound up in a search for Christian faith. At Oxford they met C.S. Lewis and through his influence became believers. But then Davy fell prey to a mysterious illness. What follows is an almost unbearably powerful story of hope and sorrow. Van turned to Lewis, his friend and mentor, for guidance. Their letters, published here for the first time, ask the difficult questions, and show the saving grace
of a tragedy courageously borne.

I am announcing this book club now so that you can consider asking for a copy of the book if you have friends or family members asking for suggestions as they prepare to send a box of Christmas goodies to you. Depending on where you are, there are some online bookstores who provide international shipping for an extra cost and you may be able to order a book to be sent to you on the field. For those who don’t get a copy of the book, I’ll include a portion of the text in each posting so that you can follow along and participate in the discussion as well.

I hope you’ll join us - I can’t wait to get started!

P.S. – The Coffeegirl Challenge

As I picture you reading and writing from your own living rooms in hundreds of different cultural settings, I love the glimpses you provide through your comments and postings on your own blogs. I’d like to encourage you to continue getting to know the other readers as we’re building our blogging community.

My challenge to you is this:

  • Go out to one blog on the Coffeegirl Blog Roll and leave a comment on her most recent post.
  • The catch? If another CG regular has already posted a comment, you must move on to another blog until you find one without a comment.
  • How will you claim yourself as the CG commenter? You must mention “Coffeegirl” somewhere in your post.

Let the commenting begin!


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