Monday, December 24, 2012

Going "Home" for Christmas?

I've been thinking about the concept of "home" lately. Especially at Christmas, the idea is emphasized that we all have a home, not just in the physical sense, but emotionally. We have a place and people around whom we feel we can be ourselves, we are loved and accepted, known and embraced with all our quirks and shortcomings. We don't have to walk on proverbial egg shells or unduly weigh our words. We are at ease, experiencing peace and comfort and all those warm fuzzies everyone talks about.

But, going home for the holidays isn't always like that, is it? Having family and even people we call friends in our home isn't always like that. Sometimes, there's tension, emotional distance, difficulty in communication, offenses, bitterness, and maybe even hatred toward those with whom we share a home or to whom we open our home at this time of year.

And, then there are those who can't be home this time of year. They can't be with the ones they love and cherish. I think of my friends, the Goerlings, whose dad/husband is in Afghanistan. I'm sure they'd all love for him to be home with them this Christmas, but he can't. Or, my friends, Joel and Cindy Rishel, who expected to have 4 boys from Brazil home with them for Christmas this year. They're in the process of adopting these little men, and we all thought they'd be together by now. But, they're not.

Even going home to my own family in PA, I can't help but to think of both the beauty and the brokenness my family represents. My family exists because two people died. My dad died of cancer when I was twelve. My stepdad's late wife died when she was hit by a car while she walked along the side of a country road with a dear, family friend.

And, what about 26 families in Newton, Connecticut, who have presents wrapped under their trees ready for their children and loved ones who will never open them, who will never come home again?

This afternoon, I learned about other families in upstate New York who will be making funeral plans for their loved ones, firefighters, who responded to a 911 call gone awry. Those brave, dutiful firefighters will never return home.

The word "home" carries with it so much meaning, expectation, potential joy and pain.

So the words to the well known Christmas song, "I'll be Home for Christmas" don't really ring true for many of us sometimes, at least probably not in the sentiment they're sung.
I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me...

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the lovelight gleams...

We can't count on others all the time, can we? And, those we do count on sometimes leave us. Or they can't be there when we need them.  Christmas remains, nevertheless, an invitation home. But, perhaps not in the way we conventionally think about home.

Matthew 1:23 says, "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel--which means GOD WITH US".

John 1:14 says, "And the Word became flesh (this is Jesus' birth) and DWELT AMONG US", literally pitched his tent with ours.

At Christmas we remember when God made His HOME among men.

For Christians, Christmas is not just the memory of God with us; it is the REALITY of God with us that we celebrate. God is WITH us.

God was with my dad when he took his last breath. He was with me as I stood by his bedside holding his hand one last time. God was with my stepdad's wife, Eunice, as she received that death blow from a reckless driver. God is with Tom Goerling in Afghanistan and also with his family here in Maryland who long for him to be with them, too.

The God who created the heavens and the earth, who gave us our life and sustains us is WITH us; He has made His home in us.

John 14:23 says, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him, and will come to him and MAKE OUR HOME WITH HIM".

As a Christian, Christmas is a place to call home. It is a place where Christ has intersected our real world with its real muck and mess to be WITH us, to make His home with us. Knowing and remembering this can supply all the comfort, peace and joy one wants or needs.

When you're in that living room, sitting around the tree, cordially opening gifts you really don't want or need, thanking people with whom there is relational discord, remember GOD is WITH you. And, He has come not just to comfort you in that moment but also to empower you, strengthen and grace you to be a reflection of HIS grace to those people around you whom you call family or friend.

When you skype with the one who can't physically be with you this Christmas or pray over their pictures, remember God is WITH you. He is there to hold you together, to help you wait, to strengthen you for the hardship of being apart.

When you visit that gravesite, weeping that your loved one will never be home again for Christmas, remember that God is WITH you. He is there to comfort, to heal your broken heart, to give peace and joy. He is WITH you.

If you are not a Christian, Christmas is an invitation to come home.  It's an invitation to know Immanuel, God with us. It's an invitation to know His forgiveness, love and grace! It's an invitation home.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

End of 2012 reflections

With 2012 drawing to a close and 2013 awaiting, I have enjoyed taking time to reflect on all God’s faithfully brought us through and anticipating all He might still want to do in and through us in this upcoming year, pending the end of the world, of course. ;)

This year, like most, ushered in the new and unexpected, but it also held the constancy of tradition and rhythms of routines. For both I’m grateful and recognize it is God’s loving kindness, mercy and grace that carries us through them all in a way that keeps us drawing nearer to Himself, genuinely desperate for Him and finding Him trustworthy and dependable.

Both new and unexpected events from 2012 included:
·         Bella’s special princess tea party with a handful of her closest friends for her 5th birthday in February
·         Joining a local farm’s CSA (community supported agriculture) and eating lots and lots of greens
·         Lawrence leaving public accounting after 8 *long* years and taking a position as Director of Finance and IT with MedChi, an association that promotes the needs and well being of physicians in Maryland
·         A reunion with some of Bri’s closest buds from her college days at IUP
·         Beginning in earnest renovations to our townhome to prepare it for a spring, 2013, listing on the market
·         Bella beginning Kindergarten and the boys, 3rd grade. Bri has especially enjoyed watching and helping Bella learn to read. What an amazing and special privilege, one she doesn’t take for granted
·         Bri and the kids joining a new homeschool  co op called Classical Conversations which has been a huge blessing to all of us. Learning has never been more meaningful and fun!
·         Lawrence and Bri attending a marriage conference with speaker, Paul Tripp.
·         Buying, building and learning more than we ever wanted to about Legos, the boys’ (and now Bella’s) current obsession.  Guess what they’re getting for Christmas?! J

In the midst of transitions and new beginnings, however, we were able to maintain the familiarity of traditions and comfort of routines through the following:
  •  Hikes at some of our favorite local parks
  • Trips to Grandma/pa’s in PA
  • Time with cousins, building memories and having fun
  •   Eating out—especially at Dunkin Donuts for special occasions like birthdays and the start of school
  •   Weekly date night for Lawrence and Bri at TGIFriday’s or just a cup of coffee at Starbucks
  •  Outings to our favorite local gardens, Ladew and Longwood
  • Once a-month family dinners with the Almengor’s
  • Regular playdates and dinner with good friends who have stayed the course with us through many seasons of life

Seems much of our life revolves around food!  

Looking forward to 2013, we cannot possibly anticipate all that God has in store, but we are nevertheless praying about or eagerly expecting the following:
·         Our local Y opening up a pool!!  It may sound trite, but we have long been looking forward to this along with many other members of our Y, and I know it’ll be such a blessing to our family
·         Selling our townhome and purchasing a new home which would serve some, specific needs and desires of our family
·         Beginning growth hormone treatments for Judah which will involve a daily injection

Would you give thanks with us as well as pray for our little family regarding the changes 2013 holds for us, both known and unknown?

We are so grateful for the friends and family with which God has surrounded us. You all are a demonstration of God’s merciful kindness to us. Your encouragement, love and prayers are wonderful gifts from God that we do not take for granted. Thank you for loving us!

If you want to keep up with us on a more consistent basis, you can visit us online at or friend us on Facebook, profile name “Briana Almengor”.  We’re always up for your spontaneous or planned visit as well. As long as we’re at our current townhome, our address is 224 Ferring Court  Abingdon, MD 21009. Or give us a call: 410.688.7553

With gratitude to the Giver of every good gift, which includes YOU,
Lawrence, Briana, Judah, Tucker and Bella

Friday, December 21, 2012

Tell me I'm not alone

Parenting has undeniably been the most difficult thing I've ever attempted to do well.  Marriage is tied with parenting. And, while I don't feel like I'm doing an exemplary job at either, I am gratefully stunned that God has given me the gifts of both.

That said, I wanted to relay the following "scene" from a moment in my day today, a less than glorious parenting moment but a rather common one unfortunately. It turns a bit comical toward the end which I know is just the grace of God at work in my life helping me not take myself so seriously, not be so easily angered, and learn to make light of things that do provoke.

It's 4 days before Christmas, and inevitably there are food items to buy. Instead of taking time away from being all together as a family when LA is home in order to go by myself as any other sane momma would do, I decide to take my three crazy kids to the grocery store with me. That's how I "take one for the team" here in our family. I've always had an inclination toward martyrdom. :)

Wegmans is where we'll be picking up those few last items on the list, including gruyere and organic pie shells because after all, where else am I going to get organic pie shells besides Wegmans? And, no I'm not making my own; that's not one I take for the team.

Weaving our way in and through the aisles is as challenging as driving on I-95 during rush hour.  Wegmans really should have traffic lights.

We make it to check out without breaking anything or anyone. Success. The self checkout at Wegmans, however, is a bit sensitive. My children like to call it "stupid", but then again they call everything stupid. We're in that phase of childhood development.

It's actually quite sophisticated and stupid all at the same time. If a child sits on the bagging area, for instance, it gets quite confused. Apparently, it knows the weight of the grocery item one scans and expects that weight to then be placed into a bag on the bagging wheel. So, when Bella plops herself on top of the bagging wheel, it gets a little upset and starts beeping. And then the checkout girl has to come over and shut it up. And, when I use the $5 Wegmans coupon, it gets upset and the check out girl has to come over and shut it up. And, when I try to scan another $1 off Wegman's coupon, it gets upset again, and the check out girl has to come over and shut it up. again.
And, now I'm upset and someone's going to have to come and shut me up pretty darn soon.

But, I keep it together. Well, that's not completely true. After Bella sat on the bagging wheel for the 3rd time, I did turn on her a bit, harshly telling her to not sit on the bagging wheel. ever. like never, Bella. Got it?  ah, grace filled parenting at its finest. NOT.

Deep breaths, Bri. Just get the kids to the car.
After finding the car (that took a while because I didn't park where I normally do. Rude for someone to take my spot, don't ya think?), I start to hit the keyless remote to open the car doors. But, the kids are pulling on the door handle at the same time.  Our van is a bit sensitive (hmm....seems like I experienced touchy electronics once already today. Isn't there a limit to how much one can endure of this kind of torture? oh, first world problems).

After too many tugs on the door handle and one too many clicks on the keyless to no avail, I lost it on the kids, "STOP TOUCHING THE DOOR"!  But, they didn't.  So, again I yelled and again, and I'm sure my kids thought my head was going to start spinning.

I was able to stand outside myself at that moment and realize I was so out of control. Guess that's called the Holy Spirit. :)  I'm so grateful He faithfully does His job well!  At that point I began talking about myself in third person, "Mommy needs help from Jesus right now to be patient..." and then broke out in song pleading with the children through some kind of made up melody that they please not touch the door. "Oh, for the love of my sanity, please don't touch the door", I sang.

I don't think my kids knew what to do. But they didn't touch the door. And, because I am a glutton for punishment, I went from Wegmans to BJ's.

Monday, December 03, 2012


Hope, hope, hope--How I want hope. How I need hope. Everyday, I need encouragment to fight the good fight of faith, to believe that God is good, that God is with me, that God is working all things together for my good.  Everyday, I need HOPE as a fuel to keep me pressing on in Christ, to keep looking to Jesus for forgiveness, help, wisdom, my righteousness, perseverance and love.

Hold out hope to me. Anyone.

I am desperate for hope.

I know I'm not alone.

One of my pastors spoke from one of my favorite passages in the Bible this past Sunday with the theme of "hope".  I want to have this passage of scripture before me all this week. Perhaps I'll memorize it. Do you want to memorize it, too?

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.  

Isaiah 61:1-3

Also, to listen to Jimmy's message on hope, click here .