Monday, November 20, 2017

Dear Church...

Dear Church of the Redeemer, I saw a tree today and thought of you.

My kids and I walked over to Dogwood Park this afternoon to soak in all splendor of the fall season, and we decided to compete in a “Best Leaf” contest.

Off we all scurried to find the most perfect fall leaf.  I started gathering leaves off the path, but felt that the elusive “best” one was still out there.  Then I saw a gorgeous, shining tree and figured I could go pluck a perfect leaf right off of it.

But once I was close enough to examine each leaf I saw that they were all flawed!  Every single one had brown spots or holes or tears or was half-dead already. 

And that is when I thought of the Church.  Here we are, all messed up and torn, blemished and spotted, desiring to be holy but still hole-y.  But somehow, when we’re all together, reaching toward Heaven as one, God transforms the mess of us into a radiant, glorious creation.

I looked at the top of the tree and saw some leaves were missing already.  A series of saints have preceded us to Heaven, Sandy Lawson being the most recent…  But the space they leave behind still contributes to the beauty of the tree and reminds us that this world is not our final destination.  The rest of us leaves will not be far behind.

A little while later I came upon a snake crossing the footpath.  After my heartrate had returned to normal and I stopped freaking out (no pictures of this part of the afternoon, don’t worry), I thought about how true it is that a Snake is still in our garden, prowling around.  He wants to whisper to the leaves that they don’t need to be part of a tree.  They don’t need each other, much less a faulty, hypocritical institution such as the church.

In this age we see an increase of “just Jesus and me” mentality, and a decrease in the commitment to church membership – and on the face of it, it’s no wonder.  Why would anyone want to attach themselves to a bunch of flawed and torn up folks?

But, the paradoxical truth remains that the most alive and vibrant I have ever felt (and I suspect I’m not alone in this) is when I find myself surrounded by the other leaves, raising our souls to our Savior.  Functioning as a living tree, whether in worship or in service or in coming together to mourn or celebrate, is when we truly are most glorious.

And we don’t have to look far to see what happens to leaves who decide to separate themselves from the tree…

I’ve been reading a book by Martin Lloyd-Jones and came to a very convicting passage recently.
Expounding on Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians to “Submit yourselves one to another,” he says,

“It is the whole that matters most and not the part…. Surely half the troubles today are due to the fact that we are too individualistic in our whole notion of salvation.  Thank God it is individual, as we must always emphasize; but we must not think of it individualistically.  People are always thinking of themselves and looking at themselves.  They come to the church of God to get something for themselves.  Let us try to get a true conception of the church, this great thing into which we have been put.  We are but little parts and members and portions; so let us think of the whole, not the part…. The moment a man begins to realize all these things he will be ready to forego his rights…. He will now be interested in the development and the advancement of the whole, of every other part also – his neighbor, and the one who is next to him, and so on.”  (From the book, Life in the Spirit, chapter 4)

So, Church, we are in this together.  Praise God that He takes these blemished leaves and puts us together in a way that can shine out to the world.  Let’s continue to consider the whole, not just our own rights and preferences, finding ways to build up the whole tree.  Then, Lord willing and enabling, we will stretch out our branches to praise Him, and provide shade and healing to the nations.

p.s. Dogwood Park also is home to another tree I love – I call it the Trinitarian tree:

It’s quite a spiritual place, this park!  Y’all should come check it out.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Colsen is 11!

ALL that Colsen wanted for his birthday this year was a pair of "waders" and a day to go fly fishing in the mountains with Dad.  I'm happy to report that he received both.

Despite having a fever the day before his birthday, he was able to enjoy a nice day off from school and some good food on his big day.  This year he requested an oreo cheesecake, tortellini with marinara sauce and pumpkin pancakes (for breakfast).  I am happy to report, once again, that all wishes were granted.

He also received some fishing gear, art supplies and a yo-yo from various family members, so all of his passions and loves were further fueled!

We love this earnest and determined young man who is both passionate and compassionate.  May your next year be full of God's abundant blessings, Cole-man!

Kiawah Getaway

Our Christmas gift from my parents this year was a weekend away sans kiddos, and we have been looking forward to it for a long time!  We ended up with a beautiful weekend -- with weather that could not have been better, and an amazing location, thanks to our travel agent neighbor who found us a great deal.

We spent most of the days walking on the beach, exploring the resort and riding bikes around the island.

One of the highlights was our (belated) anniversary dinner out at the Jasmine Porch restaurant. I was reluctant to go, but Pete seemed pretty excited about it, so we went.  And it ended up being my favorite dinner ever!  (I know, I know, I should trust Pete by now.)

The restaurant ended up giving us both free appetizers (fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese), and free desserts (coconut cake and pecan pie).  The food ended up being amazing- - Pete had the best shrimp and grits of his life, and I ended up ordering 3 sides: sweet and sour brussel sprouts, beets with yogurt and granola, and macaroni and cheese... all of which were the best dishes I've ever had in those categories.  (Wish I could have some more right now as I'm thinking about it!)

But the best part of the night was when this man, a perfect stranger, came over to talk to us because we were sitting at the same table he likes to sit at with his wife when they celebrate anniversaries there.  They live in Philadelphia, but like to vacation in Kiawah.  He showed us pictures of his wife and kids and we had a nice conversation.  THEN he came back a little while later and brought us flowers and gifts from the hotel gift shop!  Who does that??

 He also brought his friend over to meet us later.... by which point I think they were both rather inebriated.  They were a lot of fun and totally made our night.  :)

Then we got to ride our bikes back to our villa....   a perfect way to end a perfect evening.

The next night we went to a wine bar where they had all kinds of wine on tap and we were able to sample whatever we wanted.  Pretty fun!

 On our way home on Sunday we stopped at Howard and Alleyn's church near Charleston. It was so good to see Howard in his element there!  At the start of his sermon he called up 3 people to be part of an illustration -- including Pete.  Only Howard would think to include a first-time visitor in his sermon!  :)

We enjoyed a nice lunch with their family and were reminded how much we value those long-term friends.
And then.... it was back to reality here.  Pete got increasingly stressed the nearer we got to home, but I thought the re-entry wasn't nearly as bad as it's been in the past.  I do enjoy this stage of life!

But I REALLY enjoy lovely getaways with my husband.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Halloween 2017

This year's characters included:

 ... a honeybee, who was chased by a "SWAT-ter," a CFO, a chef, and a "ceiling fan."

(He didn't go trick-or-treating, but wore this to a party)

This was Jinna Rai's first year to go trick-or-treating; last year we didn't want to confuse her too much since it was just her first few weeks in America.  (How do you explain this concept to a non-English speaking child?)  We explained it to her ahead of time and she was, predictably, VERY excited to go out.  She came home quite elated with the whole concept -- and can't wait for next year.

Monday, November 6, 2017

"Fall Festival"

One Thursday recently, my friend Rachel asked us if we were doing anything the following evening.  I told her we weren't, and she said that her boyfriend Daniel had been wanting to do a "fall festival."  She had tried to tell him that you need more than 2 people for a "fall festival," so they decided to rope us in as well.

And that is how we came to host a very small "fall festival" that Friday night.

There was pumpkin carving, pumpkin treats, baked apples.... and no-laughing contests.

Next year we're talking about adding hayrides and corn mazes.  We'll see!

Engagement celebration

Our nephew Erik and his girlfriend Kat came to North Carolina for a little vacation, and on their way to Asheville, they stopped to visit with us for a little while.  (We gave them a tour of the greater Charlotte area with football games in Mint Hill and Colsen's yo-yo performance at Waxhaw's fall festival.)

 The very day after they left us they got engaged!

Since they had plans to come back to see us again before their flight home to Minneapolis the following weekend, we decided to put together a small engagement party.

It was fun to see the newly-engaged couple and bombard them with all kinds of questions!

 Miles just appreciated the chance to drink champagne.

Our unusual football seasons

This fall 5 of the Wray cousins all banded together to form 1 dynamic flag football team, and they had 4 uncles to help coach!  Coach Graham took the helm and poured his trademark Enthusiasm into the plays each week.

Rounding out the team were a few friends, so between friends and family members, the sidelines on these games were tons of fun.  I looked forward to going to these little reunions every week!

The girl cousins busied themselves with all of their imaginary play and games each week, too, and the double-header football game weeks were just double the fun!

The final game of the season became a real nail-biter as our team was down by 5 points with just a couple seconds left to play.  Coach Graham made an excellent call and Titus threw a long pass to Branson.... who caught it and sprinted into the endzone.  What a way to end the game, and the season!

Meanwhile, Rayna also played her very first season of flag football through Take On Sports!  It was a little chaotic at times, and I'm not sure she ever fully understood all the rules of the game, but she sure loved being out there and playing!  She scored several touchdowns and the coaches were good to include her in all kinds of plays.  :)

Great seasons all the way around!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

JRR: Home for one year

It's hard to believe Jinna has been home for a full year now.  On this day last year we were all waking up in our home after 20 long hours of travel from China.

How does one sum up a year?

She's obviously learned an incredible amount in this past year, not just in facts but in mannerisms.  She makes me laugh, like when she is trying to tell me No for something and she keeps saying, "No, Honey."  That's the only time she calls anyone Honey.

She's learned her place in the family.  As the "baby," she enjoys being helped and served, but she also has always been our behavior monitor as well, informing us whenever anyone breaks one of the rules.  (Which is just great.  As if we didn't already have enough of these "justice" types.)

She also has established herself as a perfect foil for Miles.  While she loves him tremendously -- she often wants to buy him presents and wants to tell him her news first --- she also loves to provoke him.   We were riding in the car recently when someone got the hiccups.  After some discussion on that topic, Miles said,

"Once there was a boy named Miles who hated talking about hiccups."
Immediately Jinna responded,
"Once upon a time there was a girl named Jinna who LOOOOOVED talking about hiccups."

That pretty much sums up their relationship.

She's figured out how to get what she wants, how to make any of us come running, how to make up long, intricate stories, how to help out around the house, how to wrap up "presents" for people and make them cards (pretty much daily), and how to be a friend to others.

There are a few things, though, that she doesn't have exactly right... but we don't want to correct her because these quirks are just cute.  For example, last fall sometime, right after she was starting to learn some English words, she somehow got the idea that "iguanas" were like monsters.  So whenever she wants to talk about something scary, the story she creates always include huge iguanas that eat people.

Another example is what she called soap, up until just recently.  She always called it, "Washabody."  I think we used to hand it to her in the shower and say, "Wash your body," but she started to just refer to it that way.  As in, "Where's the washabody?"  I never wanted her to learn that was wrong... but somehow someone must have clued her in because I heard her say she was out of soap recently.  :(

I know it's only been a year, but I almost can't remember what our family was like without her.  There was definitely a huge hole.  So glad she finally made her way here.

(To celebrate the actual anniversary of her adoption date, we had the Burke family over for dinner.  Fun night!)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

More DC Sightseeing Pics

First stop: National Cathedral

Evensong Service

Miles took this picture -- wants us
to see where the Washington Monument is

Some planned added graffiti on the
War World II Memorial:  Kilroy was here

Miles has a dream

Their favorite monument


This frieze shows all kinds of stories throughout U.S. History,
but the stories about how it got painted (and mistakes) are the more
interesting part, IMO.

Learning about how things fly in the Smithsonian

Wright Brothers' plane

Miles almost falling off the Jefferson Memorial
Miles almost falling off the Lincoln Memorial

Gaining wisdom from MLKJr
Hoping this sinks in...
Maybe it was sinking in already:
when one brother was whining, the other carried him

Time to head home...
Final stop: The National Archives to see
the original documents