Monday, December 26, 2011

Good Tidings of Comfort and Joy

This has become the theme of my Christmas -- giving and receiving the good news, stories, gifts and graces of comfort and joy.  I've learned again the intentions of our Father to bless us in order to be a blessing.  The never-ending goodness He provides us in this non-linear, messy life of grace.  I keep learning the disciplines of grace, the giving and receiving.  I'll be gone a few days practicing well the receiving part.  

In the meantime, I wanted to stop by for a moment and shout the good and joyful news:
We have been saved!  We are saved!  We will be saved!  
There is a Savior!

Happy Christmastide from the Murphy Family!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

7 quick takes: first Christmas away from home edition

I didn't think I'd get to blogging quick takes this week, but am up in the middle of the night with a severe bout of homesickness so this week's post has become a spiritual discipline.  You'd think I would have anticipated the homesickness  being my first Christmas away from home -- ever.  I'm learning, though, that it's possible to be completely at "home" and "homesick" at the very same time.  I think this is a valuable Advent lesson, don't you?

Seven reasons I am excited to spend Christmas -- my first Christmas away from home -- in Austin:

--- 1 ---

You're going to laugh.  This morning as my son and I were crawling on hands and knees across our church's rented dancefloor-turned-sanctuary, snaking black tape over electrical cord, I had a great sense of "home".  Same sense, a few moments before that when my daughters and I were placing little paper circles around small white candles.  You may or may  not remember my thoughts last Advent about the act of preparing for corporate worship being part of my DNA

Today was a good reminder.

--- 2 ---
This year for Advent I get to sing two of my all-time favorite Advent/Christmas songs.  And not just all by lonesome with iTunes as my accompaniment.  I get to sing these songs with real-live worshipers in a real-live worship service. 

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

In the Bleak Midwinter

--- 3 ---

Since I'm not working this year, I was able to get a little bit Christmas crafty.  We had fun making handmade gifts for some of the many, many amazing new friends we're making.

handmade snow globes for our littlest friends
--- 4 ---

Christ Church presents an annual children's nativity pageant on Christmas Eve, complete with angels, wise men, barn animals.  For the first time in, maybe fourteen years (?), I am not in charge of one single thing for Christmas Eve services.  (although I did offer to help corral costumes between services).

Christ Church invited a string quartet to their second service on Christmas Eve.  Grace upon grace, I only yesterday discovered that another Christmas tradition in our new church is to celebrate the first-Sunday-after-Christmas with a Lessons and Carols liturgy.  I have truly found a home in Anglican worship.  

donkey costume and Baby Jesus waiting for the Christmas pageant

--- 5 ---

Living in central Texas during Advent and Christmas, it's so much fun to read the familiar phrase in Luke's Gospel,  In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah... and be able to picture this.

--- 6 ---

We've been accustomed to filling our relational "tank" with our large and near-by families during the Christmas season. Living far away, we have the opportunity to spend time with friends.  Today we ate toasted cheese sandwiches, watched A Muppet's Christmas Carol and talked  for hours with new friends.  As an extra-special bonus, we got to spend hours sitting, crawling, and playing on floor level with their completely adorable ten-month-old.  

Joy, joy, joy!

--- 7 ---

And, if all else fails, we've learned how to make this.

candy cane vodka for our bigger friends

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Natalie's essay inspired by Annie Dillard

[guest post by Natalie Murphy]

When I was 10 years old I went to summer camp for the first time. I went to a small Christian camp called El Rancho De Paz. My counselor had spent almost all of the summers of her life at that camp. She never cared if she had dirt on her face, she didn’t mind if there was a bat flying around in the room right above us and she could French Braid hair in record time. This was not me. I didn’t like walking long distances, I wouldn’t go with in 10 feet of horse dung and I would not pee in the woods.

I remember watching my counselor that week. She was fearless, she was brave and funny, strong and kind, she was clever and adroit, and I had never admired someone so much in my entire life. That week changed me. I realized that playing in the dirt was fun. And even though I still don’t enjoy hiking, I can appreciate it.

                 Four years later I found myself again at El Rancho, after spending 3 more summers there; I ended up there on a church youth group. Many of the girls I bunked with had never been to camp before and I realized that they were exactly like me, my first time at the Ranch. So I decided to do something crazy so they could see what I saw in my counselor. I wanted to be fearless, just like her. So I grabbed a friend of mine after a day of rain and we dove, headfirst, into a puddle of fresh, smelly mud. Soon everyone joined in and the group of adults and young adults jumped in puddles and rolled in the mud, completely throwing dignity out the window. Can you imagine the shower room that evening? I think that we used the mud exactly how God intended it. We used it as a way of throwing pride out the window and acting like children, forgetting the hardness of our hearts or how much money the clothes we were wearing cost. For a moment, just a moment, I caught a glimpse of Heaven. In Heaven we will have no sorrow, we will only have joy and peace. In Heaven no distance or time will separate the ones who love the Lord. In Heaven there will be no barriers.

 In four short years God used El Rancho to change me from a girl who put way too much care into her image and how people saw her, to a girl who rubbed dirt on her face and sang “Pharaoh, Pharaoh” at the top of her lungs, no matter who was watching. God used El Rancho to show me the majesty of the world he created and how beautiful it can be to lay your worries at his feet and simply jump headfirst into the glory of his masterpiece. God used El Rancho to strip me of my pride. God used El Rancho to change my heavy heart and make it light.

          Something I learned about the beauty of God’s creation in those four years was that God’s majesty isn’t held back by the simplicity of Earth’s atmosphere. I learned how to look at the sky at night, be patient. God knows the stars by name, he gives them their light. The stars are only loyal to him. I have discovered that stars are shy. If you simply glance at them, they do not trust you, you must take your time. Lie down and wait. First they will only show you a few stars and gradually reveal more. They need to know that you are a child of God, that he created you in his image. They need to trust you, and once they do, they don’t hold back. If you are just patient and calm, the stars will perform for you. They will appear all over the sky, as far as our human eyes can see. They will dance for you and twinkle, they will send each other shooting magnificently across your range of vision, the will show you something more wonderful and awesome than a firework show or a dance number, all for the glory of God and the glory of God alone. I’ve found that if you treat them right, the stars can become your friends. They will let you join them in worshipping the master, the creator, the only one who is truly fearless.

          The moon and the sun are full of there own wonder as well. They are not shy or bashful. They are not afraid to show themselves and provide light and wonder for everyone, even those who don’t take the time to appreciate them. When I look at the moon, I like to think that all the people I don’t have by my side, all the people I have rolled in the mud with, all the people who have taught me and learned from me, can simply look up and see exactly what I see. There are only two things that the Texas geography shares with the New York geography, the moon and the sun. God may have sent us to be apart for a while, until Jesus returns, but he did not leave us empty of each other. God gave us the moon and the sun so we remember who we are, his. He gave us the moon and the sun so that we remember how small we are and that even though in our eyes we are 1,764 miles apart, in his eyes, we are neighbors. The moon is large enough to give light to all the people I love at the same time, just imagine how big God is if he is the master and creator of the moon.

          God doesn’t hide his creation; he is not bashful or quiet. But God still makes you look. But if we are patient, if we are gentle and ready to praise and appreciate his masterpiece, he will let us see it.

 Who’s the king of the jungle? Who’s the king of the sea? Who’s the king of the universe? Who’s the king of me? Jesus is the king of the jungle! Jesus is the king of the sea! Jesus is the king of the universe! Jesus is the king of me!

homeschool daybook: Sonnets! Snowflakes! Sock Buns!

Phew-EEE!  We made it through a semester of school here in Texas.  Alex had his final final this morning.  Kendra completed her first month homeschooling, Natalie her second.  I think we're all very grateful for some days off.  Also, grateful for a challenging semester.

Here's a random wrap-up of the past few weeks:

The girls kept up a weekly schedule of "Mary Poppins" days with little friends, giving busy mamas a much-needed break for the afternoon (not to mention, this mama!)  It's been delightful hearing their stories, watching them prepare activities.  It also gives me a decent excuse to once again browse the children's section of the library.   

This past week, we had a snowflake-making skype date with my adorable, industrious nephew.    Earlier in the week he'd produced, filmed and starred in his very own tutorial video for his mama to post on facebook.  I figured he'd be more than eager to teach his cousins.  True delights.... 

We realized we were hitting a wall last week.  Probably due to Christmas and vacation in the air.  I confess I lost my temper a few times that particular week.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that before we began schooling at home, I assumed every week would be like that so a bad week every couple of months isn't so bad.

 To beat the stir-crazies, we packed up our stuff and spent the morning at Strange Brew.  Free wi-fi, lots of comfortable seating, good coffee and tea.  We were all set.  Natalie and I spent a good chunk of time ironing out some wrinkles in her understanding of sentence diagramming.  Call me a geek, but I LOVE sentence diagramming.  I'd forgotten how much.  Natalie?  Not so much.  

I'd like to take a moment to share with you some excerpts from the grammar test I had Kendra create for Natalie.  Kendra isn't taking any formal grammar lessons (she wasn't in public school, either)  so I've been having her keep her skills fresh by editing some of Natalie's work, buffing up on Strunk & White, and writing grammar tests.  

Please enjoy with me a sampling of Kendra's handiwork:

2.  Match each word to its example:

Declarative                          "Feed the hog."
Interrogative                        "My butt is big."
Imperative                           "Aw sh@%$#!!!"
Exclamatory                        "Is it hot in here or is it just you?"

hoo-boy, there's more....

9.  Identify the subject of the following sentence:
     Wow, Kendra is really hot.

Natalie wasn't outdone.  How about this gem?

24.  Change the following italicized adjectives into adjective phrases:
       Awesome people like Kendra deserve a trophy.

Natalie's answer?
        People like Kendra that are mentally unstable deserve a trophy.

Unfortunately for Natalie, Kendra not only wrote the test; she graded it too.

While we're on the subject of my daughters who make me laugh in spite of myself.

Overheard when they were taking turns reciting the Sermon on the Mount to each other.

"Let's drink a shot every time we get a verse right!"  (Henceforth, referring to this exercise as the Sermon on the Mount drinking game.  Don't worry, Mom, it was iced tea.)

During the same activity...

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  Blessed are the punctual...."

As you can see, we've got lots of work to do still.

We did accomplish some academic-type work since Thanksgiving:

  • History:  Natalie finished her study on the Civil War with an arduous reading of Churchill's The Great Democracies (from History of the English Speaking People, vol. IV); Kendra studied the medieval era.  Brian assigned her a formal paper on the subject of the Church in the Middle Ages.  She spent a week writing and another week revising based on his critique.  
  • Literature:  Both girls read from History of English Literature on "How the Sonnet Came to England" and "The Beginning of Free Verse".  I had them read a variety of sonnets from Emily Dickinson and William Wordsworth.  This one by Malcolm Guite was their favorite.
  •  We had a complete spending an afternoon reading Jabberwocky and then writing our   own bric-a-brac word poems, via The Roar On the Other Side.  I'd post them here, but you kinda had to be there....
  • Language Arts:  See notes on the Grammar review test and sentence diagramming above.  Also, Kendra kept her vocabulary and spelling skills fresh using these online quizzes:  spelling, vocabulary
  • Math:  Both girls are trucking along with the textbooks they began in September.  Natalie has almost completed her first logic workbook and discovered it's one of her favorite activities.  Who knew?  We'll be starting another logic workbook after Christmas.  Hopefully, her enthusiasm will continue.  Kendra supplements her geometry work with lessons at Khan Academy.
  • Science:  The girls spent the last two weeks reading from a variety of sources on the subject of world origins.  We'll pick this up after Christmas with some resources I've been collecting.  
  • Nature Study:  Slowly but surely -- sadly, reluctantly --  we're building nature journals.  I'm going to win them over on this discipline yet!
  • Music:  Kendra's completed her month-long study on the work and life of Chopin; Natalie on Tchaikovsky.  I'd wanted to find affordable tickets to take the girls to one of Austin's productions of The Nutcracker, but just couldn't swing it this year.  We did enjoy listening to both composers on CDs we loaned from the library.   Between that and good ol' YouTube, hopefully the girls got a little taste of this masterful work.
  • Art:  Kendra continued studying Renaissance artists:  Masaccio, Paolo Uccello, Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi.  She did a picture study of our Advent image, Fra Angelico's Annunciation.

  • Natalie continued her Renoir study; this past week she did a picture study of The Swing.  She also had another chance to sketch and enjoyed it a ton.  It makes me happy to see her willing to try her hand at an activityI gave up on in like the fourth grade.  
Of course, these are just highlights.  There's lots of reading, writing, talking and daydreaming you can fill in between the lines.  

For fun (under the heading Life Skills to sound more official), I had the girls watch this video:  How to Curl Your Hair With A Sock!  Natalie fell in love with the idea right away and has had instant success.  See for yourself....



When I was taking these pictures, I had a strange sensation of deja vu.  Then I remembered where I'd seen that hair and that pose before...

Can you even believe how this whole parenting thing works?!?  It's crazy, I tell ya.

If you're one of the faithful friends reading our homeschooling journey these past two months, thank you.  We promise to get back at it next year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

post script

A few notes on recent topics:

   1.  In last week's mixtape, I posted the video-recipe for mulled cranberry cider.  
        p.s.  We made the cider to share with friends after caroling with our neighborhood Saturday night.  It was a HUGE hit.  Unfortunately, I was too busy sipping it and scooping it out for people to take pictures.  Also, my girls would want you to know that they teamed up to make it themselves.  Trust me.  Make some during your feasting in the next few weeks.  (and do let us know what you think!)

2.  Remember the gorgeous starling murmuration video I posted?  Which led to a medley of musings about really seeing the air around us?  Also, remember how much we love Annie Dillard 'round here?  

     p.s. Not sure how I forgot this excerpt from Pilgrim At Tinker Creek:
"Today a gibbous moon marked the eastern sky like a smudge of chalk. The shadows of its features had the same blue tone and light value as the sky iteself, so it looked transparent in its depths, or softly frayed, like the heel of a sock. Not too long ago, according to Edwin Way Teale, the people of Europe elieved that geese and swans wintered there, on the moon's pale seas. Not it is sunset. The mountains warm in tone as the day chillds, and a hot blush deepenes over the land. 'Observe,' said da Vinci, 'observe in the streets at twilight, when the day is cloudy, the loveliness and tendereness spread on the faces of men and women.' I have seen those faces, when the day is cloudy, and I have seen at sunset on a clear winter day houses, ordinary houses, whose bricks were coals and windows flame.

At dusk every evening and extended flock of starlings appears out of the northern sky and winds toward the setting sun. It is the winter day's major event. Late yesterday, I climbed across the creek, through the steers' pasture, beyond the grassy island where I had seen the giant water bug sip a frog, and up a high hill. ... 

Out of the dimming sky a speck appeared, then another, and another. It was the starlings going to roost. They gathered deep in the distance, flock sifting into flock, and strayed towards me, transparent and whirling, like smoke. They seemed to unravel as they flew, lengthening in curves, like a loosened skein. I didn't move; they flew directly over my head for half an hour. The flight extended like a fluttering banner, and unfurled oriflamme, in either direction as far as I could see. Each individual bird bobbed and knitted up and down in the flight at apparent random, for no known reason except that that's how starlings fly, yet all remained perfectly spaced. The flocks each tapered at either end from a rounded middle, like an  eye. Over my head I heard a sound of beaten air, like a million shook rugs, a muffled whuff. Into the woods they sifted without shifting a twig, right through the crowns of trees, intricate and rushing, like a wind."

Here's the video, you should definitely read the Dillard's delicious words before -- and, possibly, after -- watching this video.  

Murmuration from Sophie Windsor Clive on Vimeo.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Mixtape: Advent 4

Welcome to Monday Mix Tape, in which I pretend I'm Ira Glass.  You know, I choose a theme and share with you several variations on the theme from the worlds of art, faith and culture.  To keep up the fun little facade of making a weekly mix tape, I label each of these finds as "track 1",  "track 2", and so on (and just like the stack of mixtapes you've got hidden in a box in your attic, you never know when you might see some love song from Journey or Lionel Richie show up here).

Today's mix continues in the marking of Advent.  Over the past four weeks I've been sharing some of the ways my family and I have been trying to step out of our own tyranny of the urgent and step into the alternate universe of kingdom time. Won't you join us in this counter-cultural, counter-consumeristic, counter-Church-as-therapy, counter-instant gratification, counter-mass media experiment?

Our Advent journey as a family is not as easily categorized by theme as some Advent materials I've seen, but I've tried to create a phrase that basically summarizes our focus for each week. In the reality that is family life, not one thing is easily categorized.  Any of the readings and activities we've done together could be looked at through the lens of any category. What's important to me is that when we turn the liturgical page to Epiphany, we can look back to the previous six weeks and know that we've been immersed, made new again,  in an ancient-living river of spiritual practice and Scriptural truth.

Week four is about humility.  We've hope-giggled (hope), home-bodied (preparation), and heart-opened (joy).  Now we humble-mind, let the mind of our Christ become our mind.  The same Christ was able to look on the interests of others above His own, who did not need to grasp at His God-hood for his significance, who put on the skin of the suffering, the poor, the needy. The humbled and stooped-down.  This is the mind of our Christ and we desire it to be our own, even though our flesh, our culture and all Hell come against it.
"If I had one sermon to preach, it would be  a sermon against Pride. The more I see of existence...the more I am convinced of the reality of the old religious thesis, that all evil began with some attempt at superiority; some moment when, as we might say, the very skies were cracked across like  a mirror, because there was a sneer in Heaven."
-- G.K. Chesterton, The Common Man
A mixtape of images, sounds, words that are helping me enter these truths, common objects afire with God....

track 1: visual art

Jose Orozco, 1926

track 2:  music

I hadn't listened to this album since last Advent until today.  It may very well be the best contemporary Advent hymns album I've discovered yet.  I encourage you to spend some time with this album this week!

track 3:  lyrics & poetry

Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendour: "This hymn was written at a particularly difficult time in the history of the missions to China. Missionaries had been captured by the communist Red Army and released in poor health after over a year of suffering. Others had been captured never to be heard from again. In 1934 the young missionaries John and Betty Stam (my great aunt and uncle) were captured in Anhwei and beheaded . The news of these sorrows had reached the mission's headquarters in Shanghai. Though this was a very dangerous time for both the Chinese Christians and the foreign missionaries, Frank Houghton decided he needed to begin a tour through the country to visit various missionary outposts. While traveling over the mountains of Szechwan, the powerful and comforting words of 2 Corinthians 8:9, "though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor," were transformed into this beautiful Christmas hymn." (click here and scroll down for more notes on the hymn)

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becomes poor.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
                -- Frank Houghton (1894-1972)

track 4:  video
The Work of the People combined one of the songs from Ordinary Time's album with video footage.  I think it is quite compelling.  See for yourself.

track 5: links
We were able to attend a screening of 58: the film at Christ Church last night.  The entire Murphy family will be pondering and discussing the content and challenge presented for a while; I suspect some of that will spill into my posts here.  For now, I encourage you to check out the work of 58: (from Isaiah 58).  The website is very easy to follow and will give challenge your premises on global poverty.  

If you want a simpler critical review, I'll quote Andrew:  It [the film] was very good.  I was so glad we weren't submitted to "poverty porn".  I'll let you dig into that insight on your own.

Join the movement to end extreme poverty

May you know the ungrasping-confidence of Christ this final week of Advent!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

7 Quick Takes: the comfort of home edition

--- 1 ---

We completed the sale of our house this week.  It felt like all the air finally let out of our moving-stress balloon.  Celebrating the sale of a home is always a drawn-out process, but this felt extra weighty since we'd never had to carry a house mortgage plus a monthly rent and two sets of utilities while at the same time becoming a one-income family.

 Yes, it felt a bit scary.  I have old fears of poverty stitched inside me from living as a small child on a pastor's tithes-per-week income.  Those fears started to come out of my subconscious in the past few months.  While we never got to the place like my parents' stories of having no gas in the car, no money for gas, no money for medicine for three sick kids, and no fuel for the furnace to heat a house in the middle of winter.  

We didn't even get close to this kind of crisis, but the fear was beginning to hound me a bit, I confess.  I know it's good to be reminded of our true poverty of helplessness, to be reminded of the true Giver of every good gift.  I'm glad for this little season with empty bank accounts.  It's been a gift to our humility, empathy, compassion and family bonding.  

I'm also glad for some financial relief.  

our final moments at our house on Jefferson Avenue in Endicott, NY

--- 2 ---

Just get a look at this delight-full gift my sister sent us last week.  It was the week when the we're-living-in-a-foreign-land-for-Christmas blues began to hit hard.  Perfect timing, perfect gift.  Thank you, sweet sister!

By the way, if you ever want to find a lovely gift to send a homesick family member, sleepless college student, far-away-friend with a new baby I can vouch for the comfort of this gift.  You can find all the information here at the Spoonful of Comfort site. 

--- 3 ---

Speaking of comfort food, one of the very greatest perks of living in a house with almost-leaving-the-nest people is that they can share the cooking.  And make coffee in the morning! Drew got a job here in Austin making sausage and cutting meat in a local organic market.  I guess being surrounded by delicious food all day has piqued his interest in learning to cook.  What a perfect hobby!

Just look at this gourmet macaroni and cheese (made with gouda!) and panko-crusted chicken cutlets.  Oh my!

--- 4 ---

On the subject of home and meals, take a few minutes to read this lovely interview with Laity Lodge chef Tim Blanks, picked up by the Wall Street Journal.  It makes me happy that such a generous, life-breathing location got this kind of press. 
"4. Never fear simple food. In a frenetic world, simple is good. 'A large loaf of crusty bread broken amongst friends has power like no other food,' Tim says."
So true....

--- 5 ---

There seems to be no way around it; no matter how much we intend to slow down during Advent, there's still a longer list of things to be done in lives already full of lists of things to be done.  I spent most of my day yesterday with this view while shopping the world of the internet for Christmas gifts, catching up on emails, making grocery lists, plowing through a pile of coupons, contemplating a roll-a-dex full of addresses I'd like to mail Christmas greetings.  

Oh, well.  At least I had this happy yellow thrift store mug full of hot tea, homemade pumpkin bread from a friend in our small group, apple slices and savory chunks of Gouda cheese.

--- 6 ---

I know I already posted a video from Tiger In A Jar this week, but I just can't help myself.  When you watch this one, you'll see why it is perfect for this week's home-and-comfort Quick Takes post.

--- 7 ---

Truly Advent evokes our deepest longings for our true home with our forever family. This year I've been given the gift of understanding that longing better than ever before.  I am grateful.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!
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