Monday, December 21, 2009

The Incarnation--God With An Umbilical Cord

Posted by Picasa

How many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me

--Lyrics from "How Many Kings" by Downhere

I've been hearing this song on the radio this week. It always brings tears to my eyes. It makes me see...Jesus, taking off His royal robes, allowing Himself to become an embryo, growing inside a young girl. Jesus, limiting Himself for us. Can we ever know what that was like? Not completely. But if we can, for a moment, forget the herald angels singing, forget warm visions of friendly animals in a spotless barn, forget the unusualness of Christ's birth...then perhaps we can really see. A little anyway. See how human Christ became--how He humbled Himself.

Luke says it so delicately: "While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son." (Luke 2:6-7)

We are tempted to think sterile thoughts--Christ wrapped in snow-white blankets and in a cozy manger. Our minds recoil from the truth--that the King of Glory was born in a gush of blood and amniotic fluid to an groaning, exhausted, terrified teenager. In a barn. Over straw and manure. We don't want to remember that He did that, went that far for us. Isn't that a bit too much, Lord?

But we must remember. We must not tidy up Jesus' birth. We must always remember His sacrifice--the shadow of the cross over the manger.

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:5-8)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Six Random Things About Me--For Carrie

So, Carrie tagged me to write six random things about me. Mmmm... Where to begin? I'm sort of random and absent-minded, so this shouldn't be too hard. It's just so much easier to lurk on other people's blogs and read their randomness than to write my own.

1. I share Carrie's love of Korean rice and Korean food in general. Maybe that's not so random since...uh, she's my sister. The random thing is that I CRAVE Korean food when I'm pregnant. Just go back to my roots, I guess. That, and I can't get enough shaved ice, spinach, and steak. Yeah, I know you're thinking ANEMIC! ...You're probably right.

Oh, and I make some awesome bulgogi! Just thought I'd throw that in there.

2. I LOVE Masterpiece Theatre! I've seen just about all of their productions--except the creepy ones, cuz I'm a wuss like that. Anything Jane Austenish is right up my alley. In fact, I'm getting old and set in my ways, so I hardly watch anything else anymore--maybe that also has something to do with the fact that I have three little kids, too... Mark is kind enough to suffer through romantic comedies with me, but when it comes to "19th century soap operas", as he says, then I'm on my own!

3. I'm afraid of heights--really high heights, that is. I hide my eyes when we go on some of those awful dirt roads in the mountains with sheer drop-offs and no guard rails. Mark gets a kick out of this, and teases me mercilessly about it.

4. I'm not so good at math, but I'm good with finances. I know, that's supposed to be an oxymoron. I cannot do more than 2-digit sums in my head (sometimes not even that!), but I understand about dividends and mutual funds and compounding interest. Well, I'm getting there, anyway. Please, if you are a financial genius, don't leave comments! Financial stuff is just very interesting to me. I'm afraid that makes me a nerd.

5. Lists, schedules, and pretty new notebooks make me happy! Now, I'm SURE that makes me a nerd. Writing up a new routine, or writing in a new notebook makes me feel like all is right in my world--very therapeutic. Strangely enough, I hardly ever stick to routines (not very precisely, anyway), and my house is not very organized--and that doesn't bother me until it gets to the I-don't-know-where-anything-is point.

6. I will never, ever remember your phone number, but I will remember your name, and the names of your children, and your entire life history.

I often wonder about the life stories of the people sitting in the car next to me at the stoplight.

If you talk to me while I'm driving, I will follow my "salmon trail" as Jess says--and we will most likely end up at church, home, Target, piano lessons, Ultimate Buffet, or Jill's house. Which means I would probably do better to not think so much about the people in the car next to me.

I'm not so good at thinking before I speak.

I think my husband is the hottest guy ever, even after 10 years of marriage.

I'm cheating (on this list, that is--not on my hot husband). That's WAY more than six things. Maybe this wasn't so hard after all...

Thanks for the tag, Carrie. That was fun!

**Edited to add: Sorry, that was supposed to be "Ten Little-Known Things About Me". Not so sure the above stuff is particularily "little-known"--especially the part about me not thinking before I speak! :) Anyway, remember how I said that I'm absent-minded? Well, there you have it, folks!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Another Love Story

Confession time. I have a love affair with children's literature. Whew! Got that one off my chest! Seriously, though, I am a helpless fanatic. I can breeze right through the toy section at Walmart without a single heart-string twinge; but get me into Borders and my kids know I am a sucker! Come on, even as I walk in the door, I almost swoon over the smell of coffee and books. I love books. I love reading. I love teaching reading. I love to read aloud. I love to listen to my kids read. I love to stack up all the children's books from the book shelf around me and sigh with pleasure. Yes, I'm weird. Now, math? That's another story--we won't go there.

A few things I've learned over the years--and am still learning!--about reading literature to children (a broad category, I know):

* First be excited about the book yourself. I was blessed with a mother who was a reading fanatic and, as you can see, she passed that on to me. Pick books that you loved as a child, or books that sound interesting to you. Every once in a while, I select a book to read aloud that I later find to be a real drag either to myself or to my kids. I've learned that it's perfectly okay to lay a book aside without finishing it and pick out something else.

* Stick to classic children's literature. Let me clarify that I have nothing morally against popular "movie turned into story" books, Barbie series, or Babysitter-Club-type popular fiction (Christian or otherwise). We have quite of few of those, in fact. However, I've found that my children don't really enjoy them. They are the books that get read once and then forgotten; or read halfway through and then found to be boring. They don't have much substance. Classic literature is enduring for a reason--children love it! Look for Newberry Award Winners, or books that have just plain been around for a long time. If children love it so much that it's been printed and reprinted over and over, then it's probably a great book.

* Don't be afraid to read slightly above your child's reading level. When I first started reading chapter books aloud to my oldest daughter, I used to change words that I thought she would not understand, or stop to explain a lot of things. One day she said, "Mom, I don't want to hurt your feelings, but can you please stop doing that? It kind of messes up the story. I'll let you know if I don't understand something."
I've found that, as usual, my kids "get" far more than I give them credit for! Recently, I read Heidi by Joanna Spyri aloud. Even the three-year-old enjoyed it and understood the general storyline. Side note: It helps (my children anyway) to listen better if they play with blocks or draw or do something quiet while I read. Don't insist that they sit still unless you're reading a very short picture book.

*For the homeschool teacher: Don't kill a book by insisting on book reports or narration. I know, I know, we want so much to have something to "show" for what our children read, but did those activities ever make you want to read more? There are plenty of ways to get your child to write or comprehend besides doing book reports or awkward narration. Try asking your child to write a story about when she spent a day with Laura in Little House on the Prairie. Or how about writing a different ending for her favorite adventure story? Maybe she could make a diorama of a scene from The Cabin Faced West. How about just asking your child what she's been reading and showing genuine interest instead of asking for a tedious narration? Try to keep reading pleasurable as much as possible.

The payoff:

Tonight, Cassie told me she had just finished Treasures of the Snow, by Patricia St. John. "It's time to pick a new book!" she said, excitement in her voice.

We went downstairs to the living room bookshelves. She browsed the titles, asking me my opinions of different ones. She finally had a stack of ten or so to choose from. She looked at them and arranged them into different piles, and skimmed the first few paragraphs, and looked at the pictures. "Oh, Mom, how can I decide!" she said.

I told her she would have to decide soon because it was well past her bedtime. She finally selected A Cricket in Times Square, by George Selden, and hurried upstairs to read the first chapter before falling asleep. I marveled that she had already fallen in love with reading.

Now, anyone want to volunteer to teach her to fall in love with math?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Rice Chronicles: Christmas in July

**The Rice Chronicles continues with another snapshot of my crazy childhood! Please follow me around the world to Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa, where I spent the summer of 1995. I was 16 years. I was in a war-torn country. The only other white person that I knew of had left a week after I arrived. There was no electricity most of the time and there were huge roaches (eewww!). I was far from everything familiar--except rice. It was the staple diet, of course! The Rice Chronicles, take two...

Christmas in July

I climbed the steps of the mission guest house wearily that night. I set the kerosene lantern on the table and groped around for something to eat. After weighing the possibilities--leftover potato leaf plassass with palm oil congealing around the edges of the plate, or a gigantic mango--I settled down to cutting up the mango and watching termites fly suicidal missions into the flickering light of my lantern.

I heaved a heavy sigh. I was so tired...of everything really. The initial excitement of the lush tropical landscape and a new culture to conquer had slowly worn off in the face of stark realities. Just that day we had visited a home overflowing with refugees fleeing the rebel terrorists. One pregnant woman was very ill, and the little witnessing team I was with had stopped to pray for her.

"'E de got de cholera," one of her relatives told me. Then, indicating a bright-eyed boy and girl curled up on a ragged blanket, "An' de pikin den. De de got 'em too."

What could I do? Nothing.

A few days ago... A woman writhing in the red mud next to her dilapidated shack--screaming as if her heart was being ripped apart. Her husband had just died.

What could I do? Nothing.

Children clogged the streets. Begging, crying, bloated stomachs, skinny legs. Homeless. No one called them their own.

What could I do? Nothing.

Amputees. Handless. You saw them everywhere--the butcher in the market, the lady on the bus, the child playing in the dust. Evidence of a senseless war. Cruelty beyond imagination.

What could I do? Nothing. Nothing. NOTHING!!

Lord, why am I here? I'm only sixteen. What in the world can I do? What difference am I really going to make? I'm lonely and overwhelmed and I want to go home.

I heard my house mate, Kadi, at the door. I hurried to wipe away my tears; I was not in a mood to bear my soul. Not to her, anyway. Kadi was a sweet Christian girl, but very quiet and usually kept to herself. Tonight, as usual, she greeted me politely and hurried upstairs to her room. I sighed and blew out the kerosene flame.

Inky, velvet darkness enveloped me. I had never quite got used to the complete darkness of Africa at night with no electricity. No streetlights, no headlights, no glowing windows. Dotted here and there were flickers from native oil lamps, capturing brief silouettes of passers-by. In between the small circles of light they cast were vast frontiers of blackness--inpenetrable, invincible darkness...


I jumped.

"Sorry to startle you," Kadi whispered from the stairs.

"No, not at all," I said, "Come sit down. Should I light the lantern?"

"No, no. I'm used to the dark."

She held up something that glittered every so slightly in the velvet blackness.

"Did I ever tell you I play the flute?"

"No, I don't think you ever did," I replied, only slightly interested.

"Well, I don't play much. Only Christmas songs, actually."

Her voice sounded a little bashful at this admission.

"Can you play one for me?" I asked, wanting to make her feel better.

The first few notes trilled out loudly in the stillness. She was playing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", and she played it very well. It made me think of carolling and of home, and when she was through, I asked her to play another.

And she did. That quiet, mousy girl must have known every Christmas song ever written--"Hark the Hearld Angels Sing", "Away in a Manger", "Silent Night", "O Come All Ye Faithful", "Good King Wencelas"... On and on she played, each soft note striking a blow against the palpable night.

I sat across from her on the cold tile floor, whispering the words to each well-known tune--verse after verse, song after song--tears slipping soundlessly down my cheeks.

"...O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by..."

Dark, quiet streets like those outside the window. Mary gazing at the face of her new baby Son in the glow of a native lamp... Her Son born into a terrifying, sinful, dark world like this one.

"...Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son of righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings. Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die..."

Oh, Lord, how much we need your light and life and healing here. Oh, Jesus, come be born in Africa!

"...O come, O come Immanuel! And ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear..."

I am here, Phebe. Shining out through you--a small circle of light in the acres of darkness. Shining out through every heart that is open to My light. I have many people in this city...

And I could see those lights--small but bright--dotted through the streets and mountainsides of Freetown. God's light and life and healing. Never going out. Pushing back the darkness. Hope for all of our wretched sinfulness. Hope for me.

My comforted heart overflowed with thankfulness to a God who cared enough about a homesick teenager to visit the dark backstreets of sad Freetown. With Christmas music. In July. A God who cared enough for all of us to come into our sad world as a crying, helpless newborn baby on Christmas. And bring light.

"...Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight..."

By Phebe Sistoso
June 7, 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Home schooling. There are days when I wonder why I ever did this. That mostly happens on rotten weather days when we all have cabin fever. But really, why WOULD you want to home school? If I'm honest, I'd have to say that, yes, the expert teachers probably teach better than me. The children would've had more chance to explore subjects like Spanish and computers if they were at school. Sometimes I have trouble staying on top of things like what library books I need to reserve for next week's unit study, what field trips I need to coordinate, and what supplies I've forgotten to buy for which crafts. I'm no expert.

But I have a conviction that this is the right thing to do. It grows with every week that passes. It's hard to explain. In fact, I don't understand it completely myself. I can't resent people that don't understand our decision to home school, because I don't understand it either. The best way I can describe what's in my heart is: "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart".

This IS my desire. And I sure am delighting in it! Oh, not when Joy doesn't understand her math, or when Anne throws a fit when I'm trying to read aloud. It isn't even the educational games, the books we read, or the crafts we do that matter most. It's those brief glimpses of a beautiful childhood that reassure my heart that we're in the right place.

It's Belle walking across the backyard with the ducklings trailing behind. It's the children making snow angels in the front yard when everyone else is in school. It's Joy teaching her younger sister to play a song on the piano. It's the girls running and leaping in a windy meadow on a nature walk. It's Belle "fixing" the car with Dad on his day off. It's glimpses--beautiful, rare glimpses. Each one is a gift. It's not what they learn that matters most. It's who they are and who they are becoming. It's their childhood and it only happens once.

Glimpses... Beautiful, rare, treasured glimpses. I don't want to miss even one...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Blast From the Past

So, I'm getting nostalgic lately. You see, twelve years ago I was just falling in love head over heels. February 1997 was a confusing, exhilarating time. I was totally crazy over my best friend, Mark Sistoso, but scared to death for him to find out--until he told me he was crazy about me too! On February 2, 1997. Then, of course, we didn't know what to do with our new situation. Were we girlfriend and boyfriend? What would we do when I went away to college? Of course, as girls do in those circumstances, I was already practicing my signature with my new last name, naming our future children, and looking at wedding gowns with new interest. Shhh! Don't tell the boys! It would scare them if they knew what REALLY goes on in our heads. :)

Then came February 28, 1997--Mark told me he loved me! And, after some careful consideration, I told him I loved him too. He told me I was the sort of girl he would like to marry one day. This was serious stuff! This was more than gazing at wedding gowns. This was more than just a crush. This was real love...

I wrote this a couple of months later, just before Mark left for a month-long trip to visit his family in California. Note: Keep in mind, this is from the pen of a very lovestruck 18-year-old. :)


You hold my hand tighter tonight than usual. Is it because you are leaving tomorrow? I know it is. You will not be gone for long, of course. Still, I can sense that sweet touch that farewells always bring--a touch of melancholy, a touch of thoughtfulness. It brings to mind a vague question--"What is real love?"

"Ironic," I think, looking about at the unromantic scene--the busy street, the flashing lights...

At the convenience store on the corner I start to go on, but you stop. I see that look in your eye, that smile on your face and wonder... You pull me inside, and when we step out a few moments later, I'm the proud owner of a rose.

"It's beautiful!"

"But I meant to get you a bouquet!" you protest, "I really did, but I got hung up running errands and buying groceries this afternoon..."

You look at me a little sadly. Oh, but don't be! I like my single, convenience store rose much better than a hothouse bouquet. I hold it close as we walk along, hand in hand. Then that question reappears--"What is real love?" Is it so irrelevant?

Tonight we must say "good-bye". If you were Romeo and I Juliet, then our farewell would be said in love-struck words at a moonlit balcony--"Good-night, good-night. Parting is such sweet sorrow..."

But if that is the hothouse bouquet, then give me th single rose of reality. I would not trade that scene for this. True, we cannot see the moon for the towering, gray buildings. Yes, you could not get me flowers because you were busy looking for green onions. I know, you have to leave tomorrow and I have to work. I do not envy Shakespearean romances, though.

Ahead of us, I see a cherry tree in full bloom. It's spreading branches are covered with delicate, white flowers. I tug you towards it, and this time it is your turn to wonder... Reaching up, I pluck a sprig of cherry blossoms for you. You take it as if it were a treasure, a perfect gift.

"Now you can't say I've never given you flowers," I tease, squeezing your hand.

You laugh. We both laugh, and the night bursts with sunshine. Then I see it, the answer to my question. Yes, I see it, there in you hand and here in mine--real love--a single rose and a tiny sprig of cherry blossoms.

Romeo can keep his lovelorn speeches and Juliet her passionate looks. I have something better--reality. The callused hand that clasps mine is warm, the man beside me is my friend, and the joy in my heart is free of pretense.

You kiss my hand gently.

"I love you," you say, and I know it is true.

That is real love.

By Phebe Granderson (Sistoso)
April 17, 1997

**Note: Just in case you were wondering--yes, I still have the sprig of cherry blossoms and the rose.**

Saturday, February 21, 2009

His Reward

--> -->
     Monday morning. Slick streets and snow to keep us home. The three-year-old has a wet bed. The one-year-old is getting into everything. Too many messes this morning. Too many kids in time-out.
     I begin to cast about in frustration. What am I doing wrong? If only I work harder, can I have a perfect house? Perfect children? Perfect marriage? Lord, what do You want from me?
     I see the world passing me by out the window. So many of my friends are moving on, getting jobs, going back to school, changing themselves… And here I am—snowbound at home with three children, frayed around the edges.  Oh Lord, what do I need to do to please You? To have an organized home? To make my children stop squabbling? To make my husband happy? ‘What must I do to be saved’?
     And then Jesus comes by. I hadn’t expected Him. But there He is, grinning at my door.
     “May I come in, Phebe?”
      Such a gentleman, I think, rushing to wipe the crumbs off the table and straighten my hair.
     “Oh Lord,” I apologize, letting Him in, “I’m sorry the house isn’t as clean as You’d like. I’m sorry I’m not as pulled-together as I should be. I’m sorry school is going slowly this morning.”
     He just smiles and I wonder if He’s heard a word I just said. He plops down on my couch and lets out a huge sigh.
     “I’m beat and frozen to the bone! Do you have anything hot to drink?”
     “Oh yes! Just a minute!”
     I hurry to boil water and pour the tea. In the other room I hear Jesus reading a story to the girls. They laugh aloud as His voice imitates a horse and then a duck. I reach for the communion cup for Jesus’ tea. But this morning is just…and my home is so not holy…and Jesus is lying on my couch for pete’s sake. I grab a Mickey Mouse mug and pour His tea.
     He sips it loudly and sighs.
     “Thanks, daughter! That hits the spot.”
     I sit down carefully beside Him and look around at the rumpled couch covers, the puddles of water on the floor where the seven-year-old and the three-year-old have been washing dishes. If only I’d known He’d be here! I could have made everything so much more God-worthy.
     “So, where were You going this morning? I mean, when You were cold and tired and stopped by my little place?”
     I think of all the places Jesus must have to be today—politically-decisive moments, crusade meetings, church outreaches, homes tidier and holier than mine…
He says the word so quietly that I wonder whether I heard Him right or not. Home where? Heaven?
     “Where is home…Sir?” I ask awkwardly. After all, how do you address the King of Glory who has one foot propped up on your coffee table?
     “Here, of course.”
     “I…I thought Your home was in heaven?”
     “’Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat—or have tea—with her, and she with Me.’”
     It makes me laugh to hear Him quoting Himself. He laughs too.
     “But Lord,” I say, “But Lord…”
     And I look at myself—so imperfect, so many sins, falling so far short of His holiness.
Who am I, Lord?
     He reaches out for my hand—and His is so scarred. Grace
     “But Lord, when You came by… Well, we were only washing dishes, and learning what starts with ‘A’ , and practicing the piano, and…and…”
     I burst into tears. How can I tell Him, ‘You’ve got the wrong house, God. You want the church down the road. But please stay. I need You here so much’?
     He reads my thoughts.
     “But I came here. And you didn’t rush off or ignore Me. You opened the door and let Me in where there’s warmth and love and peace and children—My children. I love coming here. It’s home.”
     And when His eyes look around, they don’t seem to see the fingerprints on the windows or the sins in my heart.
     “May I stay? Live here?”
     “Oh please do, Sir!” I say quickly, but fear springs up inside.
     “What is it, daughter?” His eyes are searching my heart.
     “But, Lord, what about tomorrow when I oversleep and don’t have devotions? What about when I eat too much for dinner, or forget to pray? What if I yell at the kids and You’re here? You don’t really want to be here for all the dirty diapers and math problems and runny noses, do You? Don’t You have more important things to do?”
     “No, I don’t.”
     A smile slowly spreads across His face at my look of bewilderment.
     “I died so that I could be in relationship with you, with your husband, with your children—excuse Me—My children.”
     His eyes grow serious again. I look down. There are those scars again.
     “I would consider it an honor to wipe runny noses and change dirty diapers with you, to teach My children, to disciple you and forgive you a million times a day. It’s what I long to do. Let Me in. Let Me stay. Please give me the reward of My suffering.”
     And then…no words…only grace… Incredible, amazing grace!
     I kiss those scarred hands and I beg Him to stay forever and ever.
     And now I know that tomorrow I’ll be horrible, but Jesus will forgive me. He will be there to slowly soften my heart, and I’ll grow and bloom in the warmth of His love.
     He’ll be here every day with me, caring for immortal souls of children and cleaning up messes like He cleans up hearts—one day and one amazing moment at a time. Yes, Jesus will be here—knee-deep in our need and helplessness and heart-yearning for Him. And He’ll be grinning because the longing of His heart is being satisfied—we are the reward of His suffering!

By, Phebe Sistoso
January 12, 2009