Monday, December 30

9 Things I Learned in December

Oh, December, you're over? The twinkle, the carols, the wrapping, the cookies, the Savior, the tree... over? Well, all except the Savior part.

Oh, what a Savior. This year, I didn't want to gloss over the remembrance of Christ's coming.  I didn't want it to be an O Holy Night and Joy to the World singing, and yeah, yeah, He did all that, but let's move on sort of year. Sadly, it's been that before. But not this year, or any year hereafter. And that's probably due in part to #8 in the list below.

I know you can't see me, or inside my jumpy brain, but you'll have to excuse me tonight. I'm feeling a bit... well... giddy. Today I've consumed homemade peppermint ice cream, a brownie, a couple pieces of a Symphony candy bar, a peppermint mocha, and a truffle. Oh my goodness. That is a lot of sugar. Leftover Christmas goodies got the best of me today, but it looks like I got the best of them too. And I'm left with a sugar high. I'll be typing much faster tonight, so this should be relatively painless.

To kick of this month's What I Learned post, I'll have you know that I started a running list of things I learned earlier in the month to make writing this post that much easier. Hooray for a place to jot down thoughts before they escape me.

So here goes: 9 Things I Learned in December

1.  This one really grossed me out. Throughout my growing up years, my Dad would occasionally come home from the store with a treat from the deli section. He would buy a pound of braunschweiger, and we'd have it on crackers or in a sandwich until we were sick of it because it's so rich. Then several months later, he'd get some more, and we'd snack until we were sick. All was well and good, and this fond memory was etched into my brain, until three weeks ago when I found out it is made of liver. Pork liver sausage to be exact. Liverwurst! Eww.

2.  I was sick twice over Christmas, which was sad, but not as sad as me missing my three oldest kids' very first guitar recital because of it. I was heartbroken. Months of watching them during their lessons, and listening to them practice had me anticipating the day when we would all sit together and watch their first performances. I'm still sad I missed out on being there, holding hands with Jeremy as we watched, stealing glances at each other that said "how did we get from playing house to this?" But I learned that I was okay, and so were they. And sometimes I make things seem bigger in my head than they are in real life.

3.  A hard lesson learned this month was that I shouldn't wait to make that phone call to the person I'd been thinking an awful lot about. On December 8th, it became too late. Make that call, friends.

4.  The things I learned this month lean toward the sentimental side, as they should. So, following suit, I also learned that I don't miss my sister, who lives a bazillion miles away, any more on Christmas than I do any other normal day of the year. It's the same crazy, huge amount as it is every single day of the year.

5.  I'm rarely at a loss for words among a group of friends, but today, standing in the midst of two people who had both lost their spouses in the past year, I was lost. I smiled, nodded, and wondered if I should say that I was thinking about them especially this time of year. Because I was. I didn't, and wished I would have. You know those moments when you're not sure if you should acknowledge a loss to let them know you care, or let it go this time so you don't make them sad at an inopportune moment in public? Those are the moments I'm wanting to navigate well. And I always have room for growth.

6.  And then there's this one. And it's not sentimental at all. Just forgetful. We discovered a stack of seven church library books that have been blending in with the other books on one of our bookshelves. And they've been there ever since we checked them out TWO summers ago. It's a good thing there aren't any late fees at church, because I rack up my own special kind of fees at the public library on a regular basis.

7.  I learned that if you eat too much sugar in one day, you will not feel the least bit tired at 11:09 pm. And that's no good.

8.  Sitting in the dark by just the light of the Christmas tree each night, devouring the day's reading of The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp, does a heart and soul good.

9.  And finally, I learned that no matter how many past seasons of Downton Abbey (all three) you re-watch in a span of three or four months, you will not be prepared for what might happen in the new season of the show premiering next Sunday. I'm dying of anticipation. But hopefully none of the characters will follow my example. Please, Mr. Julian Fellowes. No dying. Please?

What did you learn in the month of December? Please share with us in the comments!

At the end of each month I'm linked up over at Chatting at the Sky, where a community of lovely women share what we're learning. I so enjoy these days.  

Tuesday, December 24

JOY. The gift and the battle.


Joy. It's everywhere you look at Christmastime.

The songs sing it. The people speak it. Our hearts expect it.
We're joyful at the coming of Christ. Because Christ is Joy. Salvation is joy.

Days of celebration often make it easy to be joyful. There are people to see, gifts to unwrap, goodies to munch, and moments to remember.

But the joy that hovers on the most mundane of days can be harder to grab onto. These types of days aren't exciting. Just normal. Things and people frustrate, cars won't start, and then someone throws up through the night leaving you an exhausted heap by morning.

Joy. It's an every day choice.

I set my alarm for 6:30 on this, the first official day of Christmas vacation because I had great plans to get up, and start my morning routine. The one I've been trying to start since September. Ahem.

I complete the most important part of it every day. Bible reading, prayer, getting dressed... you, know, the key stuff. But there's another part that when added to the routine, makes me come alive in a different sort of way.

But something always stands in the way of me taking this time for myself. Usually that something is me. I stay up too late, or hit snooze 17 times, or feel stiff and cruddy when I first wake up making it hard to get out of bed.

Once I realize I've missed my chance again, I feel behind already when the day hasn't really begun. And I feel a little off. Like there's a battle for joy being fought on the battlefield of my heart.

Because there is.

@holleygerth on Instagram

Today I got out of bed at 7:45, which still left me with 45 minutes of alone time before the kids would arrive in the kitchen. But the baby who normally wakes around 8:30 or 9:00 was already wailing. Because she wakes up like a firecracker. This blue-eyed baby of mine.

I quickly take her a bottle, which will buy me a few minutes to at least get dressed before seeing a little person earlier than I'd planned.

I chose joy in the moment, reveling in the one-on-one time with this little one.

Phew. I made it across one intersection smoothly.
But the next crossroads I would face would tell a different story.


Enter six more kids. And breakfast for many and a mom who has yet to brush her teeth. Or have food or coffee.

Then add in several lies told by the same child, some poop in the bathtub (yes, poop in the bathtub), and a pan full of burnt eggs. And you get a mama who is plopped smack in the middle of a battlefield fighting for joy. I ache for joy, I cry out for joy. But still, even still - I don't always chose it.

It's a fight. A daily battle. If someone tells you they don't have to fight for joy? They're lying to you.

Because heaven is the only place filled with unstoppable joy. Unending joy that fills to overflowing. But on that morning in the manger, all those years ago, Mary gave birth to Unending Joy. Joy came down into the world as a gift for all of us. But only those who would believe would unwrap it. Unending joy would be theirs too. Forever. But first we must live here. Among the mess and the muck; the struggle and the sin. The lives we try so hard to make joyful and pleasant can get bogged down and become joyless, because well, we're still here. But because He lives in us - we are gifted with Him. And He is Joy.

"And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:10-11

Even with all of this Joy that has come to us and lives in us, we will have trouble. We will have to fight for joy in these earthly shells. But His presence is with us.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

Every time you want to pound the floor in despair, curl up in a ball under the covers, bah humbug your circumstances or everyone else's happy, don't forget to forget yourself.

“The really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but self-forgetfulness. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and contemplating your own greatness is pathological. At such moments we are made for a magnificent joy that comes from outside ourselves.”
―    John Piper, Don't Waste Your Life

Because that joy comes from outside ourselves,

even when life's a mess and there's poop in the bathtub, we can rejoice.

Even if you're forgetful and the pan full of eggs are burnt, we can rejoice.

"Struggling and rejoicing are not two chronological steps, one following the other, but two concurrent movements, one fluid with the other. As the cold can move you deeper toward the fire, struggling can move you deeper toward God, who warms you with joy. Struggling can deepen joy. Even though. Even now."  Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift

Good news from heaven the angels bring,
Glad tidings to the earth they sing:
To us this day a child is given,
To crown us with the joy of heaven.
- Martin Luther

Tuesday, December 17

An Unexpected and Treasured Gift

I received a gift in the unlikeliest of places yesterday.

It was a gift of words I never expected to hear, but have secretly hoped for these three and a half years since Gabrielle came home to us as a tiny nine-week old infant.

Gabrielle's birth-Grandma, who had become a dear friend to us, passed away tragically and unexpectedly last week. We've sat grieved and shocked at her death. And yesterday, the time had come to take our little girl to her Grandma's memorial service.

We prepped her three year old heart for the tears and sadness she would witness, and for the barrage of people that would want to see her. She would see members of her birth family, some of which she knows, some she hasn't seen since she was a baby, and some she's never met. There would be a great mix of emotions, and we didn't want her to feel lost among it all. We wanted her to know for sure that Daddy and Mama would hold her close, and not let her go.

And then there was the reason we came. To publicly say goodbye to this very special woman. The one who was instrumental in Gabrielle's entrance into our family. The one who fought for her granddaughter to come home to us. This beautiful soul of a Grandma.

The details of Gabi's adoption have never been made public outside our dearest of friends, but today I feel compelled to share a gift that was given these years after her adoption.

You see, Grandma was always one to say how much she appreciated us and loved us. All of us. She was thankful Gabrielle could still be in her life. That she was close. That we granted them a place in her life and in our home.

Her words were always positive. Caring. Complementary. Thankful. In turn, we appreciated her deeply.

Then on a cold day in December, she was gone.

But the beautiful part is that she didn't depart without leaving behind a bit of herself. In a moment that came and went in mere seconds, Gabi's birth mom, for the first time, let a string of words pour from her mouth that were an echo of her mother's.

Caring. Complementary. Thankful.

She had been taking notes as her mother spoke of us.

All I could do was mouth the best thank you I could muster because a large lump had formed in my throat and was blocking my ability to be normal and composed. I searched the crowd for Jeremy. Because he missed it.  I couldn't believe he missed it.

I may or may not have hugged Gabi's birth mom more times than was expected yesterday. But in a sense, I was hugging her for being the gift. For not only choosing life for her baby, but for letting us see this piece of our friend, who is now in the presence of our Lord. God truly does work all things together for good; for us His people. We were stunned by how this truth had played out that day.

The words we speak will echo. They will be a pleasant reverberation that soothes or a painful clang that hurts. There is a gift in not only hearing soothing words, but in remembering to pass them along.

Each Tuesday in December I'm linking up with Emily and the gang over at  Chatting at the Sky, as we share our Tuesdays Unwrapped.

Wednesday, December 11


Maybe you're one of the 16.7 million people who have already watched this. But just in case you're not, here you go.

I'm so in love with their rendition of this song, and have watched or listened to it more times than I can count. Wow. Wow. Wow.

They have an entire Christmas album. Isn't that exciting?

I just wouldn't be a good friend if I kept this to myself.

Tuesday, December 10

In Walks the Light

If I showed you a screenshot from a Google search I did earlier, you would know the truth about me. If you didn't know it already, it's about time you did:

I'm a great big dork.

I like charts, graphs, and infographics. I read labels for fun. I remember names, faces, and details of random people or things. Sometimes I'm embarrassed that I remember so much, so I downplay my overdrive memory so I won't seem stalker-ish.

Jeremy calls me Rain Man. Whatever.

"I know I only met you once three years ago, but your kids are named Hugh, Margo, and Muffy, right? Aren't they in... say... the 1st, 4th, and 7th grades by now? And isn't tomorrow your birthday? Happy Birthday."

That's what plays in my head. And now you know why it's embarrassing. And why I downplay.

This from the girl who remembers every bit of the inconsequential, but completely spaces that she's running an event the next day. And people are coming. Yes.

If there was a version of Jeopardy! for people who are not insanely smart, but have loads of useless info in their noggins? I'd be all over it. As a side note, the name Jeopardy! just doesn't fit. It sounds so intriguing and exciting just based on its title, but really it isn't.

I'll take Better Game Show Titles for $500, Alex.

Getting back on topic.

For those of us who dwell closer to the arctic circle than the heartland of America, December 21st is a big deal. After this day the light returns second by second, then minute by minute, until we're basking in light that doesn't seem to end as the sun bounces off the horizon and makes its way back to mid-sky in the glory days of June.

 I looked up this handy little chart, for the third time this month, to see exactly what our sun was doing. Today we'll top out at 5h 39m 22s of daylight.

But light is coming. And so is the Light.

I love that winter solstice is just four days before Christmas. That was well played. Just as the darkest part of the year hovers, in walks the Light. During advent, we, the people of hope and peace wait for light and Light.

The darkness outside seems to be affecting me more this year. Maybe it's because we feel so housebound these days. It's hard to get out with three little ones, and plus there's this thing called school.

But even in the midst of outer darkness, I've realized how much more I'm looking to Jesus, who is the Light. There is a gift to be unwrapped each day even if you don't see a whole lot of actual light out your windows. And I'm actually noticing it. I'm thankful for it. I get it.

Jesus came as a babe to stomp out the overtaking of the inner darkness. The darkness that seeks to squelch hope and put out the fires of delight.

The Light is coming. As the sun sets earlier than we'd hope, let's settle into hope of the Son. It's His gift to you, even on an ordinary Tuesday.

I'm linked up again this week over at Chatting with the Sky, as we share our Tuesdays Unwrapped.

Tuesday, December 3

And Now I See

I don't know exactly what has come over me.
You see, I've lived in Alaska since 1986. There, I said it. I live in Alaska.

My family moved here at the end of my 3rd grade year and I was terrified. Visions of igloos, penguins, and polar bears haunted my sister and I, who were young enough to be na├»ve, but still old enough to know we had reason to be afraid.

Upon arriving in our motorhome in this vast land of mountains and wide open spaces, we quickly found there were no igloos, no penguins (I should have known that), and no polar bears. At least not in this part of Alaska. This part of Alaska was rather normal and familiar. There were people, houses, cars, stores, and schools. I don't know what I'd expected, but what I found was far from it.

And then there's the scenery. Oh, the scenery. I knew back in 1986 that I was living in the middle of something special. Something out of the ordinary and breathtaking.

But you would have never caught me admitting that.

"Oh, Amanda, aren't the mountains so beautiful?" they'd ask.

Every time, I'd answer back, "No. I hate them." I was a stinker. And I knew it, and so did they. But it became this game we'd play. The game of See How Much You Can Annoy Amanda With Beautiful Mountain Talk.

But I grew. I grew, and I grew, and I grew. And today? I'm so crazy about this glorious place I live and its vistas, that I can barely stand it. I've become my parents. And every other person who has ever lived here.

"Oh, kids! Look at that sunrise. Have you ever seen anything like it?"

This fall and so far this winter, I've taken more sunrise and sunset pictures than I think I've ever taken in my entire life. It's like I'm seeing it all for the first time.

They're so everyday and ordinary. But then not.

I've lived in this house for nearly 10 years, and wonder if I ever noticed before. Why was I missing this?

I'm still not sure, exactly. But it's like I'm stepping out of an old, dried-up exoskeleton that needed to be shed for me to see. Life, people, and the world around seems more real, more vibrant.

Or maybe I'm getting old or more mature. Or maybe a little of both.

I just stepped away a second ago to catch a glimpse of the pink and blue sunset that is commencing. See? I can't be stopped.

This picture was taken this morning in all of its unedited glory before we zoomed out the door to Bible Study. The capturing is the remembering. The breath catching in my throat is the thanking.

Every morning brings fresh sunrises and new mercies. Praise God for that.


Every Tuesday in December, I'll be linking up with the gang over at Chatting with the Sky, as we share the gifts of an ordinary day on Tuesdays Unwrapped.

Sunday, December 1

7 Things I Learned in November

Years and years ago, I began to dream about this very month in this very year. I wondered what I'd be like, what my boy would be like, and what we'd be like as a mother and son.

In November of 2013, that far away place, I would become the mother of a teenager.

Now that we're here, I've learned:

I'm a much wiser me, more in love with my Savior and more confident in who He made me to be.

My son is just an inch or so from being taller than me, loves to read, loves God and his family, and I couldn't be prouder. And for whatever reason, he still calls me Mama. It melts my mama heart each time. I hope he never stops. (This may or may not have to do with #3 on the list below.)

As a mother and son, we're just how I'd imagined we'd be. We joke, we hug, and both have an equally intense love for chocolate chip cookies.

Happy Birthday, Drew.

Now it's on to this month's Things I've Learned post. Each month (save October), I've made it a habit to link up at Chatting at the Sky, where Emily and the other bloggers share what we've been learning, be it silly or serious, it's there.

1. I love Instagram. I love the simplicity and beauty of seeing just a snapshot of the lives of the people I follow, which isn't very many since I just made an account a few weeks ago. I follow my real-life friends, some online friends, interesting people, and my favorite authors too. It's fun. You should try it. Then let me know so I can stalk follow you too. You can follow me HERE, if you are so inclined.

2. There's an Apple Cider herbal tea made by Bigelow that is super yummy, and it doesn't have any sugar unless you add it yourself. It's perfect for this time of year.

3. I didn't learn this for the first time in November, but I was reminded once again when I was reading An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott to the family that I love me some good old-fashioned charm. Give me a story with quaint homes, horse-drawn sleighs, and long dresses and wool socks, and you've got a happy girl. That's probably why I love Anne of Green Gables, the Little House books, Little Women, and Caddie Woodlawn too. Swoon.

4. I went out early on Black Friday to meet some girlfriends as I do every year. We start at Target, grab a coffee, casually stroll around, and will maybe hit two more stores after that. We grab some items, but we're super relaxed about it and just enjoy being together while our families are home sleeping. This year's outing started with a bit of hilarity. The temperature was well below zero on Thanksgiving night, so Jeremy (being the thoughtful man that he is) started up the vehicle I was going to be driving the next morning to make sure it would start up for me in the frigid temps. We don't have a garage, so sometimes cars just don't start when it's crazy cold. He planned to leave the car running a bit to warm up the engine, but then he forgot all about it. 8 hours later, at 4:00 a.m., my husband scared the living daylights out of me by jumping out of bed after realizing he'd left the car running. I left the house at 5:30, and to my delight, it was still warm inside the van. I learned it's good to keep your gas tank nearly always full, just in case you accidently leave it running all night. You never know, it could happen. But maybe only to crazy people like us.

5. Watching snow fall is absolutely one of my favorite things. I am so taken each time. You'd think it would get old since I've lived in the Arctic since I was eight years old, but it just doesn't.

6. For the past several months, I'd been lamenting about how I didn't have time to write every day like I'd almost nearly need to if I was contracted to finish the book I'm working on. Then in walked the 31 Days series I wrote in the month of October. The work I put in during those four weeks showed me otherwise. I can write each day. I just need to change how I spend my free hours.

7. I buy cheap makeup. I do. And I buy a different kind each time because I like change and often wonder if there's something better still undiscovered. I'm faithful to my mascara and eyeliner, but that's it. Amazingly, I found one more I'll be adding to my faithful list from now on. It's Cover Girl's Clean Whipped Creme foundation. It glides on amazingly, and is just perfect. It reminds me of the kind I used to buy from The Body Shop years ago. But after they stopped carrying it, I've been lost. Nothing has even come close until this little gem from CG. I wear the lightest color imaginable and can't remember the name, but it very well could be called casperthefriendlyghost or something like that.

What did you learn in November? I'd love to know.