Friday, December 15, 2017

The Advent Jesse Tree

I am 41 years old, was raised in a Christian home, earned degrees at a Christian college, lead a VBS of over 200 people and know more than a few Bible stories by heart. But until a few years ago, I'd never celebrated or even understood Advent. That changed when something caught my eye as it came across my Facebook feed several Decembers back.

If you, like me, grew up without Advent, you may not have any idea what it means. Essentially, it's a season of preparing one's heart for the coming of Christ. As Christians, we believe that God came once to the Earth around 2000 years ago and that He will return again in His perfect time. Advent reminds us of the time that He came as the baby Jesus and points our hearts to the time that He will return again.

To help us accomplish this in the Crutchfield house, we use a Jesse Tree. It's really a simple idea. Each night, starting on December 1, we gather as a family and listen to a little bit of the story of God and His people. We read Scripture, share a devotional, and hang an ornament on our Jesse Tree. (There are many different versions of the Jesse Tree. With so many stories to choose from, not everyone picks the same ones.) For this year, we are using Ann Voskamp's Unwrapping the Greatest Gift as our guide.

Because the idea of hand making 25 different ornaments is just more than I could fathom and because I know I have some amazingly creative and crafty friends, I put out a plea for them to join me in an ornament exchange. This year I had nine friends and their children take on the challenge. Together we made 24 different ornaments, each depicting a different part of the story. Here's what we came up with. (I missed getting a picture for Day 6 and we weren't able to get Day 20 this year. I'm planning to make an ornament for that day and will update when I get around to taking pictures of those.) I've included a heading and a Scripture for each ornament. I was amazed to see my friend's interpretations of each part of the story. 

Day 1: The Stump 
Out of the stump of David's family will grow a shoot. Isaiah 11

Day 2: The World
In the beginning God created... Genesis 1

Day 3: The Snake in the Tree 
So (Eve) took some of the fruit and ate it. Genesis 3

Day 4: The Ark
It broke His heart...I am sorry I ever made them. Genesis 6

Day 5: Abraham is Promised a Legacy
All the families on Earth will be blessed through you. Genesis 12

Day 6: Abraham and Sarah have a Baby
Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age. Genesis 21

Day 7: The Sacrificial Ram is Provided
So Abraham named that place The LORD provides. Genesis 22

Day 8: Jacob's Ladder
As [Jacob] slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. Genesis 28

Day 9: Joseph's Coat of Many Colors
You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.   Genesis 50

Day 10: The Ten Commandments
The LORD said, "Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever."  Deuteronomy 5

Day 11: Rahab's Red Rope
I know the LORD has given you this land. Joshua 2

Day 12: Grain from Boaz's Field
Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. 
Ruth 1

Day 13: King David's Crown
And the LORD said, "This is the one; anoint him." I Samuel 16

Day 14: The Light
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. Isaiah 9

Day 15: Fire From Heaven
The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!" 
I Kings 18

Day 16: Jonah's Big Fish
The LORD gave a message to Jonah..."Go!" Jonah 1

Day 17: Little Town of Bethlehem
You, O Bethlehem, are only a small village...Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you... Micah 5

Day 18: Xerxes' Scepter
Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for such a time as this? Esther 4

Day 19: Habakkuk's Watchtower
I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost. Habakkuk 2

Day 20: Zechariah and Elizabeth have a Baby
He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. Luke 1

Day 21: John the Baptist Prepares the Way
Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near! Matthew 3

Day 22: An Angel Visits Mary
Mary responded, "I am the Lords' servant. May everything you have said about me come true." Luke 1

Day 23: An Angel Visits Joseph
She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means "God is with us." Matthew 1

Day 24: Jesus is Born in a Manger
She gave birth to her first child, a son. Luke 2

Day 25: Christmas Forever, for Everyone
The Savior - yes, the Messiah, the Lord - has been born today! 
Luke 2

December is sometimes a crazy and always a busy month. With all the hustle and bustle of the season, we sometimes lose the real meaning in the chaos. I would encourage you to take a few moments every day to spend with your family, reflecting on the TRUE meaning of Christmas; Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. God, who left His throne in Heaven to be born as a baby in the humblest of places, among the humblest of people. Messiah, who healed the sick and ate with the sinners. The Christ, who rather than condemned, pardoned. Jesus, who loved even those who betrayed Him. The Lord, who saw you and said that you were reason enough for Him to send his Son as the ultimate sacrificial lamb. 

As we approach Christmas my prayer for you is that you will know the Light of the World loves you. That you will see the gift of the baby Jesus for what it is: God's love for you. 

Merriest of Christmases to you, my loves. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Thrill of Victory

Back in 2011, when E finished his second wrestling season, I wrote a blog post titled "The Agony of Defeat."  It had been a long, hard season for my little man, and even longer and harder for me. Truthfully, the years that followed brought much more of the same.

We invested in the sport. Practice, practice, practice. When he was nine, we spent a ton of money and time sending him to a Purler wrestling camp once a week for about four months. He watched videos and practiced with his dad as well as his teammates but he still just couldn't seem to end up on the winning side of a bracket.

At age 10 he decided he didn't want to do it anymore. So we sat out a year. I'm not going to lie, it was kind of nice to have a season off. We spent a lot of time at home that winter and it was a good time for us.

When E was 11, his little brother decided he wanted to wrestle. I tried to talk him out of it. I had done my time as a wrestling mom and I didn't want to sit through the hard losses again. But just as I had almost talked the little one into not joining the team, E decided that he'd like to give it a try again. And this momma's heart sank. I did not want him to wrestle. It had been so much work; so hard on him and on me. But I didn't tell him that. I just asked him if he was sure. He said he was, so we signed up and once again E was a Mat Cat wrestler.

That year we went to five tournaments and a couple of scrambles. He didn't win a single match. Not one. But he had so many that were close. I mean, super close. Like one point decisions close. It was heart breaking. When sub-districts came around, we asked if he wanted to participate. His answer was, "I haven't won a match all year. I don't think it's worth the time and money for me to go." We made it clear that if he wanted to go and try, we would happily do so, but in the end he opted not to continue the season. It was the right choice.

The next year, he wanted to wrestle again. He was bigger, stronger and faster than he was the year before. He was more coachable than ever and continued to work hard. At his first tournament, he won. Not just one match, but the whole stinking thing! For the very first time, my son, who had been doing this since he was six years old, was taking home the bracket!

The rest of the season he continued to do well, earning second, first, second and first at the next four tournaments. When districts came around, he was ready. So ready, in fact, that he walked away with the bracket again. He was a state qualifier!

At the big tournament, he ended up one match away from making the podium, but was in the top eight in the entire state. It was amazing to watch him. When he lost the final match, in what ended up being a very close bout, my heart just about broke in two. I'd wanted it so badly, because I knew he had wanted it so very much. But once again, E showed his true colors. He held his head high and returned to the stands to greet his many fans. He hugged us all and thanked everyone for coming. He was pure class. To this day, thinking of that moment brings proud tears to my eyes.

This year he was a 13 year-old seventh grader who wrestled in a 14 and under bracket. Again, this made him one of the youngest kids in his division. Even harder, for the post-season, he had to face 14 year-old high school freshmen. Those boys had a entirely different practice experience than E did. They worked two hours a day, five days a week, with other high schoolers. E had practice a couple times a week and often didn't have a practice partner close to his size. But that didn't stop him. He worked hard and made the best of what he could. He won a lot of matches this year against kids in his weigh class. He ended up wrestling a lot of combined brackets that put him up against kids who were five, ten, or even fifteen pounds heavier than him. He came up short there a few times. He earned a couple of first place brackets but ended up with the silver or bronze medals more times than not.

When districts came along, he faced tough competition. In fact, there were several high school freshmen in his bracket. He persevered and ended up fourth there. It was enough to get him to the next level. He was once again a state qualifier.

He really wanted to make the podium at state. But as the fourth place finisher from District 1, he matched up against the first place finisher from District 3; a freshman who was tough enough that E got pinned. His next opponent was also a high schooler and although E went the distance in that bout, he didn't have enough points to win. Two matches and he was done. State wrestling didn't go quite like we'd hoped, but I'm still so proud of this kid. He didn't walk away with any wins but he walked tall.

When you wrestle, it's all you. You either did enough to win or you didn't. You can't blame someone else. You work your booty off and leave everything you have on the mat. It's by far the toughest four and a half minutes in sports.

One of my fav
orite things about watching Eli wrestle, since he was very little, is how he leaves the mat. In a sport where tears and tantrums aren't all that uncommon, Eli has consistently impressed me with the way he acts when the bout is over. Win or lose, he walks off with grace, humility and high character. The few times this hasn't been the case were moments we used to reflect with him on what it means to honor Christ in your day to day life. He's taken those moments and turned them into something beautiful. At state, after a really hard loss, he again displayed great sportsmanship as he walked off the mat. I couldn't be more proud. 

This weekend we're heading to Iowa for Middle School Nationals. The very next day after districts, E qualified as an alternate for Team Kansas. I'm looking forward to watching him wrestle one more time this season. He's looking forward to getting to eat whatever he wants after this one last weigh in. I'm sure neither of us will be disappointed.