This Christmas season has been a busy one for us, as I am sure it has been for you! We were so thankful to see so much of our family and friends in Alabama in November. Upon our return to the reservation, we have been organizing donations and other supplies for a Christmas feast in the longhouse, getting together food boxes, blankets, gifts, and candy for households in the community. Folks come from all over the reservation to White Swan for the annual Christmas Feast now. There were well over 400 people (and most not Christians). This year it was a great celebration of Christ’s birth, marked with a feast, gifts for everyone, and a Christmas pageant with our own White Swan children and youth.
We consider it an honor to serve together as a family, and thank so many of you for your support and prayers for us. We don’t have many answers to the variety of struggles people here face, but have learned what a difference it makes when we love each other well. It is only by God’s grace that we can do that. We can’t wait to get to quieter time in the days closer to Christmas and enjoy spending time together. Until then, all 7 of us have put some thoughts on this year down on paper for you! Merry Christmas! - Mary
“There’s nothing left for me to loose. What else could I possibly choose?
My strength is almost gone. How can I carry on? Carry on…
But Your love is all I’ll ever need. And Your grace has set me free
My strength has been restored. You’ll be with me forevermore
You’ll be with me forevermore…”
This year I have done a lot of songwriting and some recording. I have really enjoyed experimenting with music and I’ve found that writing songs is a good way for me to vent. I struggled with some spiritual warfare and heartbreak this year, and it was tough. But a lot of times, that’s when I was able to write the best songs. The excerpt above is the chorus of my song “Forevermore”. Like most of my songs, I wrote it when I was struggling and there’s a story behind the lyrics.
This summer I became very attached to three boys in Totus Park (one of the tribal housing projects where we have Kids Club), Zander (6), Riah (5), and Dante (3). Some of the best memories I have from this summer are with them. I played with Dante the most. We would sit and watch everything that was going on. It was encouraging for me to step back and watch the team members pour themselves out for the kids. I always looked forward to seeing Dante.
One day Zander, Riah, and Dante didn’t show up. I wasn’t too surprised at first, but when I asked where they were, I was told that they had moved. They were gone, and no one knew when they would be back.
Sometimes kids we love here vanish. They’re just shuffled around. When Zander, Riah, and Dante vanished I was heartbroken. I cried and prayed and questioned whether I had done all that I could. Had I told them everything that I could about Jesus Christ? Did they believe it? I prayed, with all my heart, that they did.
I sat down and wrote the song, “Forevermore”. I was tired and stressed and afraid. But I’ve noticed that the Lord encourages me as I write. My songs go from being full of grief to being full of hope. I guess it’s true that a Christian’s hope can never fail.
I miss the boys a lot, but I have hope for them. God tells us that His word does not return void. I know that God is in control, and no matter what happens He will watch over them. - Ann Marie (17)
Every Tuesday night at Bible Study, after Ann Marie finishes leading all the kids in singing and their Bible story, we divide into our small groups. I have a group of girls ages nine and under. We review the story from the night as they color a picture of the story, a maze or a crossword puzzle. After they have finished each page, they get a piece of gum. At the end of the night, they all pile into the 15 passenger white vans with their worksheets and crafts, their hands full of gum and a prize. I love watching as Christ works in each girls' heart. They love to sing and to re-tell the story to me. They all have families that are struggling. When they rush out of the vans with their hands full, and are greeted by an adult by the door, they immediately start to show off what they made and tell the Bible story all over again. They are a blessing to their families and to me. Kassey and Emma still test me often to see how much I can take, but they have come far and love to have their mom at Bible Study now. Brianna is my dad's little helper and always has a place on his lap while we are singing. Takoda and Brianna knock heads quite a lot. They are both leaders and try to take charge of the small group. Tajah and Unique stick up for each other. They sometimes make trouble (especially Tajah) and have a hard time paying attention, but on a good night they can be very sweet. I have known Marie and Kalanie for about four or five years. I love both of them very much, with all their rough edges. Chloe has always been around and often follows Marie and me from a distance. She has recently joined the Totus Park church crew and I have never seen her unhappy afterwards. Even when Marie is in a bad mood on the van, Chloe is always smiling. There are so many other girls who I would love to mention, but these are the regular attenders. And they all are learning and growing in Christ. - Beth (15)
Three highlights of this Christmas season for me are decorating the tree, making Christmas treats, and playing in the snow. After unpacking all of the ornaments onto the table we grab one or two and gradually put them on the tree. I love seeing the pictures of when the Granberry kids were little, snoopy on his sled, the bear from Gatlinburg, and all the angels. After we finish, the cornhusk angel is put on. (This year I got to put on!) After that is all done we use the tins that the ornaments were in to fill with puppy chow, peppermint bark, chocolate chip cookies, and ginger snaps. Personally I like making the puppy chow the most. (There’s more chocolate) But all are delicious to eat and fun to make. Then the greatest of all! Playing in the snow! We had races around the house barefooted and then made an eleven foot tall snowman! It was so much fun! Joshua and Veronica helped us make it, but also threw snow at us too. Sadly those six inches melted the next day. But we will always remember how much fun it was. Hope all of ya’ll have a great Christmas! - Marisol (13)
We all love getting to know the people who come out to the Reservation during the summers, and it’s even better when they come back the next year. When people come back we know that God made something or someone from previous years touch their hearts. It makes a huge difference to us and especially to people in the community. When they see returning team members it assures them that people are praying and remembering a place that is so often over looked. The children ask for people that they played with the year before and all year round we get questions like, “Where’s my buddy?” “When’s the church coming back?” “Where’s so-and-so?” and when the first team is seen pulling into Totus Park and Adam’s view, the kids cheer. As I put together videos for each team week I enjoyed seeing the faces and the reactions of both children and adults in the community as people from all over the U.S. love on them and listen to them. For so many years they have been a people without a voice. Interns, too, make an incredible difference when they come back. Two of our interns this summer, Megan Kunkel and Paul Norman, came back and six year old Tyson, who was two or three when they left, saw them and said, “Hey I know them!” I was amazed that he had remembered. It showed how powerful God is to use one or two people to make such an impact on even a two year old so that he remembers it years later. One of my main hopes is that God uses Sacred Road Ministries to make an impact on children like Tyson, so that years later they will look back and know that God cares. - Morgan (14)
In August this year my family and I went to a island for vacation. This vacation was provided by the Ross family, who own a cabin on this island in the Puget Sound. My family and I had a wonderful time! I loved to kayak and swim. We stayed there for about two weeks. During this time we caught crabs, swam, kayaked, collected shells, threw jellyfish at each other, put together puzzles, colored, played board games, watched movies, and ate s’mores! Two things that were especially fun for me were, catching crabs, and having jellyfish wars. When my dad and I caught crabs we caught them with cages or sticks. We had some pretty cool cages! When we saw one walking along the shore we would drag it up and put it in a bucket, my dad and I caught enough crabs for two dinners! Along the beach there was a swimming dock, and my sisters and I would swim to it and look in the water for jellyfish. When one of us saw one (there were lots) we would scoop it up in the palm of our hand and throw it at someone else! It was really fun, we never got stung because the little white ones don't sting. Every once and a while we would see one of the really big yellow ones that sting and be careful not to fall in! The Ross’s friends took me on their boat and I got to drive it! This vacation was one of my favorites and I really want to go there again! - Davy (12)
Every Christmas I try to focus on some aspect of the Christmas story and use my imagination and "unpack" that element of the story then sort of meditate on it. This year I found myself thinking a lot about the stable. What did it look like? It was a small barn, probably a shack really, 2000 years ago in a small, poor town in the Middle East. It was probably "drafty", dark, had holes in the walls and roof, dirt floor, etc. What did it smell like!? Poop. Musty. I'd be allergic to everything in there, the hay, the animals. What did it feel like? Probably cold. It would be the last place you'd want your wife to have a baby. The last place you'd choose for your child to be born. We laugh about folks who leave the door open and say, "Were you born in a barn?!" (Which is a funny thing to say but it's confusing too because it seems to me that it might be more important to close a barn door than any other door. I guess it depends on what's in there.) But, either way, Jesus really was born in a barn!
The thing that really got me about the stable though was that on one hand it was a very real place in time and space, and at the same time it is the perfect metaphor for my heart. My heart was/is dirty, smelly (sin smells like poop), dark, broken down, rickety, cold, etc. but then Jesus moved in! He moved in to my life in spite of the smell, the cold, the darkness, the “indignity of it all”. And then the renovations began. We all have a very long way to go yet. Longer than we think, because we are in much worse shape than we think, but Jesus is Emmanuel – “God with us”. And he is committed to finishing what He started/"completing the good work He has begun" in us. And one day soon He (and we) will trade in these "stable hearts" for the place that He is preparing for us, our new/real home.
With all that in mind, I'm ready to celebrate! Merry Christmas! - Chris