Monday, December 26, 2011

From Heaven

We have all heard of Heaven is for Real, the story of the little boy who experienced heaven during a severe illness. But now we have an account even closer to home. My husband made a Christmas call to the wife of his late brother, Delmar, last night, and she had some startling things to say.

Of course Barbara has been missing her husband terribly since he passed away in February and has had a tough year of adjustment. She is especially close to one great-grandson, the seven-year-old boy our hearts had gone out to at the funeral of his beloved Poppy. Crazy about his great-grandfather, the child was inconsolable at the services. I remember the tears spilling out from his closed lashes as my sister-in-law held him close while they wept together.

The other day when he was spending time with Barbara, he announced that he had seen Poppy in a dream. “I asked him why he left us, and he told me God was through with him on earth and called him to come home to live in heaven,” he said solemnly. Since he has always been a spiritually sensitive child, his Nana didn’t doubt him. She asked how Delmar looked, to which the little boy responded, “He was happy and he looked nice,” he said, “but his hair was different. It wasn’t combed.” When Howard told me that, I thought I knew what he meant.

In his later years, my brother-in-law’s hair had grown thin, and he had a receding hairline. He compensated for this by letting his hair grow long and doing a “comb over” which was held in place with hair spray. I thought back to a picture I had seen of Delmar as a young man. He had a full head of wavy hair, thick and luxuriant, adding what seemed at least an inch to his height. In a child’s way of explanation, it did not look combed and slicked back as he was used to seeing it. In other words, Delmar looked young!

The little boy said, “I saw other people, too,” and named aunts and uncles he couldn’t have known, even Barbara’s mother who had passed away many years ago. “They were all glad to see me,” he told his Nana. “But after he told me he loved me, Poppy said I had to go back home.”

I believe this very well could have happened. Delmar was a preacher of the gospel for nearly 60 years, since he was a teen, and he shared a close bond with this little great-grandson, teaching him from the Word and nurturing faith in him all his life. There were other remarkable stories Barbara related to Howard as they shared memories of their loved one. No doubt their long conversation was a balm to her on this night, her first Christmas without her husband, but surely not nearly as comforting as what she learned from the little boy.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

For Me?

I was enjoying participating in the gift exchange this morning, helping dispose of wrapping paper and passing out gifts. This was a wonderful Christmas morning, and the gifts to my husband and me were sweet and thoughtful. Gifts of fragrance, music, chocolates, a good read, writing material and warm accessories made a nice little stack beside our seats. It was all about the kids this morning, as they were showered with piles of treasures. The others marveled over electronics and their accessories, spontaneously breaking into guffaws over unexpected surprises.

Greg unwrapped a candy bar and slapped his knee in delight. I wondered what was so intriguing, and he showed me the bas relief outline of a figure imbedded in chocolate sent by his brother, saying it was Hans Solo from Star Wars buried in carbonite. Then he looked pleased, if a little puzzled, when he tore the paper off a utility extension cord from his daughter. He laughed when I quipped that it was an extension of her love to him.

Finally the last present was opened, and I went to the kitchen to help with breakfast, reminding myself that I had already had a nice Christmas over the past several days (12 days of Christmas, my daughter said): The installation of a new computer program, a new phone, a gigantic Scrabble game, a new outfit, new boots, a salon “do”, a lovely hooded vest in the mail, and perfume from my husband. So why did I feel a little incomplete?

A little later my granddaughter burst into the kitchen. “Mimi! I forgot to give you this present! It was hidden under the trash!” She handed me a bulky package and I opened it to find a wonderful Christmas throw! Its fleecy red surface was bright with the scrolled white letters of Peace, Love, Joy and Hope, and it was Sherpa-lined with the softest pile. I cuddled into it and knew I had experienced Christmas! (I impulsively added grated cheese to the scrambled eggs and got tons of compliments on being such a good cook!)

Later in a phone conversation, my son, Jamie, related that he had bought a Santa suit and dressed as Santa for a sermon illustration on joy this morning, observing that many artists’ renderings of Jesus reflect a sorrowful expression, when Jesus was actually full of joy. His audience loved the message, and he took the suit home with him. He later slipped out to his van, put the suit on and rang his doorbell. He saw his five-year-old daughter as she came toward the door, then glimpsing him through the glass, she screamed and ran to get away. (The two-year-old gave him a hug, however.)

Christmas is filled with delight, surprise and the unexpected. Jesus birth was unexpected by most in His day. But as Mary wrapped Him in the softest available material and felt the peace, joy, love and hope of motherhood, whether she knew it or not, in her heart she experienced Christmas.

December Twenty-Fourth

We have attended three Christmas services at churches in the past few days! Each one was beautiful, but today’s was extra special. Led by our son, Greg, accompanying on guitar, it featured many lovely carols sung by the small group gathered at their church.

Especially meaningful to us was seeing our grandchildren, Adam and Allison, giving musical offerings on the keyboard, trumpet and flute. While having been band members throughout their high school careers, they’ve been taking piano lessons a scarce month and- a-half and have had their piano for barely a month. From the first tentative notes of Christmas music sounding forth from the piano a few weeks ago, they have progressed to the quite respectable repertoire they were able to present today. Daily we had heard with satisfaction the painstaking pounding of the keys in the repetition of practice--so worth it as we enjoyed their concert tonight!

It was the capping off of a day that had begun on a note of triumph when Howard came in from visiting an old acquaintance at the nursing home this morning. My husband was bubbling over with cheer and amazement that the Alzheimer patient had conversed lucidly and amiably with him, even joining in as he led the familiar worship songs and strummed the guitar. “I believe he is getting well and will go home soon!” Howard exclaimed positively, praising God for answered prayer.

Thanks to the foresight of our son and daughter-in-law, we would come in from the Christmas Eve service to the heady aroma of a crock-pot meal waiting for us, feeling like English bards of old as we savored the sauce of the roast pork and potatoes heaped tantalizingly upon our plates. Nostalgic tv movies after supper lulled us toward our beds.

All are sleeping now, no doubt with visions of sugar plums dancing in the heads of the little ones. A tell-tale plate of two cookies and a partially empty glass of milk left out presents a small vignette of childish fancy and parental conspiracy in fond acquiescence to young imaginations.

Our hearts spill over with gratefulness for God’s goodness this Christmas season. The words of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” come to mind as I reflect on the “..tidings of comfort and joy” that Jesus Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas day! “O, tidings of comfort and joy!”

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Do You Hear What I Hear?

“Mom, did Jamie’s house get broken into?” our oldest son asked frantically over the phone. Alarm shot through me as I asked what he was talking about. He said he had gotten a text from his youngest brother saying something about “I can’t believe how cruel crooks can be at Christmas.”

Mark said he had tried to call Jamie, but couldn’t get through. “I’ll look on my computer and see if he wrote anything about it and try to call him!” I exclaimed, promising to let him know as soon as I found out. My mind was racing with fears of their Christmas being ruined, gifts stolen and other frightening scenarios.

I reached Jamie at a restaurant, sounding calm as anything. He laughed and gasped at my question. “Mom, it was only a joke. Mark didn’t read all my text! I’ll call him and straighten it out!” Turns out Mark had sent Jamie a box of gift pears for Christmas. Trying to be funny, our clever son had quipped, “Mark, I got a present from you, but thieves had apparently stolen the contents and left fruit in its place!”

Like they say, texted or facebook words don’t always convey exact meanings, and messages can be misleading or lose their comic punch as something is lost in the translation. We heard a few amusing remarks from the guest at a church service last night as he was leading us in Christmas carols and commenting from his keyboard.

“As a small child, I always wondered why shepherds were washing their socks by night,” he pondered. A little later, though, in a serious mode as we were singing, “Come, Now is the Time to Worship”, he interjected the phrase, “I’ll never know how much it cost Him, To be born in Bethlehem,” giving the worship song a Christmas slant.

I heard an excerpt of a story recently from something called the Protoevangelium, from the 1st century AD, giving an amplified version of Jesus’ birth. It was written long after the event, but in an imaginative way reflects some of the ideas people shared back then. At some point in Mary’s labor, Joseph supposedly leaves her in the care of a mid-wife and takes a contemplative walk under the stars.

As he stares in wonder at their brilliance and is overcome by the magnitude of what is happening in the stable (or cave, as the story goes), suddenly he has a vision of everything in fixed frame: People are eating and laughing, but their fork is frozen in mid-air. Their mouths are open, but still. Workers are holding tools aloft but the hammer never strikes the peg. The narrator likens the experience to a sense of life standing still at other momentous occasions in ordinary lives—the birth of a child, a marriage, a loss of a loved one, and so on.

Our sons may have had a miscommunication, and children may misinterpret songs, but the message of Jesus's birth rings loud and clear from our most reliable source, the Holy Bible. And what a beautiful message it is—time stopping, you might say, for our calendars hinge on that birth, marking time as “The Year of Our Lord, 20ll,..” the number of years since He was born. And now we all stop in commemoration of that most Blessed event to celebrate Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

In the Nick of Time

It came! And just in time! My order from Amazon was on the porch when I came in a while ago. Now, all except for making some goodies, my holiday is all wrapped up. Today is a beautifully clear, cold day after a vigorous snowfall made its appearance yesterday, with the trace that was left overnight having already disappeared by noon.

The household was up bright and early this morning in wraps and gloves, happily getting out of Millie’s way as she made the house sparkle for Christmas. “It feels like we’re on a trip!” I said to our son Greg as we all sat down to breakfast at our favorite eatery. I could imagine us all piling into their SUV and hitting the highway, but it will be a stay-home Christmas this year.

I can’t imagine that any more presents will be put under the tree, but one never knows when a last-minute impulse will strike a generous chord in someone overcome with the Christmas spirit. Stockings with their gaping mouths and slack lengths have been “hung by the chimney with care”, Cookie Monster’s head protruding from the top of the one for the youngest among us.

The family is still on their outing, possibly taking in a Christmas movie this afternoon in their unaccustomed free time from work and school. Howard had to go in to work for a few hours, but he is taking off early so that we can go with a group of church friends to a nearby town for a candlelight communion service and time of fellowship tonight. An accomplished musician and well-liked speaker will be a featured guest, so we are looking forward to an inspirational evening in keeping with the season.

As the saying goes, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” The Bible says in Galatians 4:4 that God sent his Son “in the fullness of time”, so that means He came just in time, too! And when Mary wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, she really was wrapping the first Christmas Gift!

Keeping Track

“Where is that order?” I wonder again as something I bought on the internet still hasn’t arrived. A little book. Something that would build the self-esteem and stretch the imagination of the 6-year-old girl in residence. She likes dancing, so I thought of Maria Tallchief, Oklahoma’s (and America’s) prima ballerina, and sought out a children’s book about her as a Christmas gift for the little dancer.

Now it is only two days before Christmas, and it finally occurred to me to track the order on internet. I found out it came several days ago, went to our former address, was forwarded and now is in Dallas, Texas, in transit! What a fiasco!

I feel like Daniel who had prayed for deliverance for his people from the Babylonian captivity and was despairing that his prayer had been heard. Finally, an angel appeared to him and told him his prayer had been heard 21 days ago, but opposing forces had delayed the victory. (Daniel was granted a behind the scenes peek into God’s tracking system!)

Getting the book will mean tying up the last of the loose ends of Christmas preparation. A pre-Christmas day passed yesterday punctuated with the pleasant distractions of craft-painting with children as the snow flew thick and fast outside, the arrival of precious photo Christmas cards of family, seeing friends who had dropped by, enjoying the warmth of their visit (and the warming cups of hot chocolate from the gift-mix they had left!) and the surprise of finding my sister has published an e-book!

What will today hold? We have been invited to a special candlelight communion service and fellowship tonight at a small church in a neighboring town. Pre-Christmas cleaning is on the schedule, too, and I’m sure many other things will crop up. One thing I can be sure of though, God has everything on track!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Countdown

Am I experiencing the expectation of Christmas? Why else do I wake up and stay awake after only five hours’ sleep? It reminds me of when I was expecting my babies. An inner excitement made me get up and stitch on baby clothes. All mothers can relate to Mary, especially those who have babies around Christmas time. One of ours was born three weeks before Christmas, and another only a week before Christmas—my best Christmas presents!

Now I have a granddaughter who may be going into labor with her first child. The doctor said it could be a Christmas baby! His middle name is to be Nicholas, since that is his father’s middle name, but how apropos!

Or maybe I’m just beginning to feel the “Christmas spirit”. Up to now, I had felt rather neutral about the approaching holiday. True, I had spent most of my emotional energy on our great Thanksgiving family gathering, so Christmas seemed like an anti-climax. But yesterday things changed. Beginning with the weather.

After days of dreary, unpleasant, cold mist and rain, we woke up to a day of bright sunshine and crisp temperatures. A perfect day to explore shops downtown and browse in unhurried luxury, since all my preparations have been completed. The explosion of color and cheer from bins overflowing with the latest toys and intriguing, ingenious gadgets and playthings were a boon to my spirit.

Then, near the rear of a gift shop, I noticed a clearance table. My husband and I fingered the novelties, exclaimed over an unusual dish or gizmo, and were moving on when I spotted something I loved! A bright, hand-painted wooden checkerboard, looking like the antique ones I had always coveted. It wasn’t antique, of course, but it had lovely stylized birds and flowers painted in folk art at each end. It was half price and looks lovely on my shelf!

A special church service last night left me in a tender Christmas mood, and a couple of days after Christmas I will see my sister for the first time all year. I’m also looking forward to seeing my son and his family from North Carolina again, having seen them all-too-briefly at Thanksgiving. Our Christmas menu has been made, guests are coming and the joy of little ones will permeate the whole house. How can I help but have the Christmas spirit and be pregnant with expectation?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Coming of Christmas

Once in a while during the Christmas season, all the extraneous trappings of the holiday are peeled back to reveal an astonishingly simple, yet miraculous, story so poignant and holy that you wonder how it has been so cleverly disguised in the distraction and bustle of celebration that purports to honor it.

Tonight was such a night, as our church commemorated Jesus’ birth with a candlelight communion service, recognizing the beginning of His life on earth and also His request that his death be remembered in this way.

Just a greeting, a prayer, the reading of the Christmas story from the Bible and a beautiful carol sung eloquently by a young woman who accompanied herself on the guitar. As her sweet soprano voice rang strong and clear with the words, “Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains, And the mountains in reply echo still their joyous strains,” we could sense the starry night, the blue velvet sky, and the resplendent heavenly host choir singing “Gloria, Gloria, in Excelsis Deo.” The strange Latin words are translated, “Glory to God in the Highest.”

Then a time of Holy Communion as the elements were distributed by our senior statesmen of the faith, and the prayers of thanks they offered for what they represented: the atonement for our sins as Christ gave His life for us. Small candles had already been distributed to each person in the congregation, and as the ushers lit the ones of those nearest the aisle, they in turn shared their light with the one next to them, and so on until the entire dimmed sanctuary was aglow in an interactive, tangible illustration of being a light to the world.

“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned,” my husband read from Matthew 4:16 , a prophecy of Jesus spoken by Isaiah.

By this time, in an atmosphere where hearts were tender with love and gratitude, the soloist strummed the notes of “Silent Night,” and we reflected on the humble scene of Mother and Child as we joined in the chorus of solemn adoration.

Sweet fellowship followed in a surprise reception organized by the youth department where homemade goodies and homegrown conversation warmed us against the chill night, so starry and still, into which we headed homeward, mute with our thoughts and the magnitude of that silent night.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fancy Meeting You Here!

Who is that woman? I wondered, when I saw a familiar-looking face at the check-out counter as we entered the supermarket. I was sure I knew her, but I just couldn’t place her. From our old church? A visitor at our new church? Clerk at a store? Former hair dresser? These impressions raced through my mind from a mental check list as I wracked my brain.

“Oh, I remember!” I said aloud to my husband as we neared the back of the store. “She’s from the Bible study, BSF, where I used to go!” I hadn’t seen this member of my group since the local chapter of BSF closed more than a year and a half ago. “I wish I had gotten to speak to her!” I exclaimed. Then, as we were on our way to the front, I spotted her headed toward the exit.

“Hi!” I called, as she was about to go through the automatic double doors. She didn’t hear me, so I called a couple more times as I hurried toward the receding figure. She was halfway out, but suddenly she turned around. “Remember me? From…” I started to say, when she finished, “BSF! Hi!”

“You wrote a book!” she remembered, pointing at me in recognition.

“And you’re the one who went to Oberammergau for the Passion Play! I told my husband you were the one who travels!” I responded.

“Yes, I just got back from China only a couple of days ago!” she exclaimed. It was if we were long-lost friends. “I was reading in your book,” she said, “when I came across something, and I thought, Wait! That sounds like me!”

“About the valentine cakes? Yes, that was you!” I admitted. We laughed and I told her I had another book at the bookstore now. “Read it! There might be something else about you. I don’t remember,” I teased.

How good it was to meet her again! We had shared God’s Word, testimonies, prayer, tears and laughter during those days. It’s no wonder we felt a bond.

“I’m going to Hawaii in the Spring,” my friend announced. “My kids are taking me.”

“And I’ve been invited to go to France in the summer!” I replied, “I might go if I get up the nerve.”

Our son is going, again, and he offering his guide expertise to family members who might be interested. I told him I would prefer to go to Israel, so he said to get a passport; that might be arranged the next year! Who knows? Maybe I’ll meet someone I know over there. It’s a small world, and God’s people are everywhere, at home and abroad!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Home for Christmas

“I’m a little doll who was dropped and broken, from my mommy’s knees,
I’m a little doll who has just been mended, won’t you tell me, please?
Are my ears on straight, is my nose in place, have I got a cute expression on my face?
Are my blue eyes bright, do I look alright, to be taken home Christmas day?” sang the little girl.

She was reenacting her part in a children’s dance program for us that Howard and I had missed that evening. Usually quiet and reserved, the six-year-old, cheeks still rouged and hair still curled from the performance, became animated and expressive as she danced, pantomimed and portrayed a doll, pointing out eyes, nose and smile, slapping her knees for emphasis, clapping and throwing up her hands in a question at the end. I was amazed at her charm and grace!

Even more amazing, I realized, as the words of this children’s song came back to me in the night, was that she was a flesh-and-blood example of the song, living out the story of the doll! Tears of realization and gratitude welled up in my eyes as I got the picture.

Just over a year ago this child was “dropped and broken” when tragedy struck her family and she and her little sister were tossed about between makeshift caretakers. Even before she lost her parents, when hardly more than a baby herself, she tended her little sister, mothering her and changing her diapers. When they were rescued, the lice-infested children told horror stories of being locked in a closet by an uncaring adult.

But for almost a year now, they had been in the process of mending in a stable, if crowded, Christian home by a compassionate couple who could no longer look after them and care for their own children, too. My son’s family wants to adopt them and are going through the preliminary processes.

The little dancer, still fragile and a little uncertain, wonders if she is pretty. Her foster sister is pretty, and her little sister is cute, but somewhere along the line she has picked up a negative impression about herself. When asked recently if she could have anything she wanted, her response was, “I want to be pretty.”

As it turns out, those sad brown eyes--not blue--are bright and happier now, and they will be even brighter next Sunday morning, when they awake to their first Christmas with what will surely be their “forever” family—ours!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Best Part of Waking Up...

Wake up and smell the coffee! My husband bought me a Christmas present of perfume today, but I had to try it out. In between sniffing samples, we were offered a sniff of a jar of coffee beans to cleanse our sense of smell from the fragrance of the last perfume.

I had heard of cleansing the palate with bread or water between sips of wine, but I didn’t know about the coffee thing and was as surprised as Howard was. Since I usually can’t smell perfume (or anything else), I don’t buy it; however, my sense of smell has been with me lately, so I was agreeable to it as a gift.

When reading about this practice later, though, I found out it is not good to sniff something someone else has previously sniffed, for health reasons. In fact, it is recommended that you bring your own bag of coffee beans to sniff when trying out perfumes!

If only it were that easy to cleanse our minds and thoughts from harmful influences we may be exposed to in our everyday lives! In using the coffee beans, the intensity of the perfume is lessened, but a slight fragrance of it remains. No matter how hard we may try to remove unsavory images and words from our mind, there is always a slight impression that remains in our subconscious, only to surface when least expected.

How much better to live in such a way as to be obedient to the words of Ephesians 5:1, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.”

In that way, we can keep ourselves unspotted from the world (James 1:27), and like the three Hebrew children, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who survived the fiery furnace, our garments will not even have the smell of smoke! Daniel 4:27b says, “…neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them.” Now that’s a wake-up call!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Do Unto Others

How pretty! I thought as I saw the glasses gleaming on the table. That morning, I had been emptying my china cabinet, putting things away for storage. How did I accumulate so much stuff?!! I had already filled several boxes with china, crystal and glassware.

Maybe my daughter-in-law would like these, I mused. One less thing to pack. I don’t think I had ever used the gold-rimmed glasses, just admiring them through the glassed doors sitting on the shelves. I gave them to her, and here they were, sitting on her dinner table sparkling in the light with company for supper. Everything looked so festive, filling me with the warm glow of generosity.

That was last night. Today my warm, fuzzy feelings seemed to evaporate with the morning light. Impatience and frustrations over minor irritations, including a non-responsive computer spoiled my mood and made me short with my husband. We had set out on an errand, and he pulled into the bank at the drive-through window, where I was in no mood to see the chatty teller. I kept silent as he returned her friendly greeting, shrinking back against the car seat to avoid her glance.

This sure is taking a long time, I thought as Howard waited for his deposit slip. Just then I saw the two tellers emerge from their booth and come outside, one bearing a large tray filled with slices of pecan-laden pumpkin bread, Christmas cookies, candy and other treats and the other carrying two paper cups of hot cider. I had to smile and put on a gracious face for their unexpected kindness, but I was still nursing my bad temper as we headed to Walmart.

It seemed the atmosphere was unusually festive in the store; even the bell-ringers at the door were more cheerful and jovial than usual. Then a smiling lady I didn’t even recognize hailed me and asked me about my grandchildren. We exchanged small talk, and I remembered who she was just before she pushed her cart away.

Was God trying to shame me out of my childish behavior by letting everyone be so nice to me? Or was He just letting me know that He cared for me? Even my husband became cooperative and dropped off my computer to be fixed; it was ready by this evening. I had been letting my happiness be dependent on what happened to me. Thank you, God, that your joy doesn’t depend on circumstances, but that there is joy in blessing others.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hallelujah!

"This is the day, this is the day, that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made," the congregation sang joyfully in church last night. Later, when Howard, who was leading the service, asked for testimonies, I shared something I had learned about this song. This was the hymn that Jesus and the disciples sang after the last supper as he was on his way to the cross!

It is from Psalm 118:24, which is part of the Hallel that was sung at Jewish festivals such as the Passover. The Bible says in Matthew 26:30, "And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives." Jesus, as a Jew and a rabbi, would have known the Hallel and and its implications.

Jesus had just presented them with the object lesson of the passover meal, which was traditionally the lamb, unleavened bread, and wine. But in his illustration, Jesus does not mention the lamb. Even though the disciples didn't realize it, this was because Jesus himself was the Lamb. As clearly as possible, Jesus tells them that the wine is His blood of the new testament and the broken bread is His body.

Peter had previously protested that Jesus should not die, and now he swears that he will never deny Christ. It is clear that he cannot accept what is about to happen. But another verse in Psalms 118, says, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the head stone of the corner," verse 22. They had all sung the hymn that night but didn't realize it was being fulfilled in their ears.

Even now, as we celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Jesus when he came into the world, many do not know or even acknowledge His birth. Instead, Christmas is almost an orgy of excess and self-indulgence, creating greed and distraction from its real meaning, especially among the young and impressionable, who are fed a diet of ever more ridiculous scenarios from the media "Christmas" presentations.

A history-making, world-changing event on which the calendar of history turns occured some 2,000 years ago when Jesus was born. It was so important that the very hosts of heaven heralded it in blinding brilliance in a celestial event to terrified shepherds who searched until they found the newborn Babe. Wise men who watched the heavens recognized the significance of the star, indicating a King had been born.

Although we don't know the date, it is well-documented that Jesus was born. And although we celebrate His birth, instead, we are asked to remember His death with the Lord's Supper. Because of Him, we can indeed sing, "This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it!".

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"I Can Live on a Good Compliment for Two Months" --Mark Twain

“At your convenience, could I have a warm-up of my coffee?” Howard asked the waitress as he left the table and headed toward the dessert bar at the buffet where we were having a Sunday lunch.

“Oh yes,” I heard her say, then, “You’re polite!” Then she turned to fill his coffee cup, and said to me, “Your husband is polite!” It seemed she didn’t run into much of that in her everyday restaurant service.

“Yes,” I agreed. “He has good manners.” (I think he makes up for me; unfortunately, everything I say seems to come out rather bluntly!) My husband has always had a pleasing way with people, and it is rewarding to me when they obviously appreciate it. We enjoyed our meal, and the young waitress was kind and solicitous whenever she passed our table.

As we were leaving and I was gathering my coat and gloves, she again remarked to me on Howard’s cordiality. “You are a fortunate wife,” she said, her warm brown eyes sparkling. Just a teenager, maybe she was taking notes on what she might want in a husband someday.

“I know,” I said, “we’ve been married 53 years.” His thoughtfulness and the ways of a true gentleman were part of the reason I was attracted to him in the first place, not to mention his love for the Lord.

“Fifty-three years!” she exclaimed in surprise. “Why, you look in your early fifties yourself! I would never have guessed that!” When I protested, she said, “Well, maybe in your mid-fifties.” This was a girl after my own heart! I enjoyed her reaction when I told her my age, and then I added, “We have 6 children and 18 grandchildren!” forgetting to mention that we are also great-grandparents now.

“You must have a happy life!” she concluded. I told her that indeed, I do. After this many years, the rough spots and difficult times have softened in memory to inconsequential ripples on the (mostly) smooth seas of matrimony. We are very thankful for the Lord’s blessings on our life together and give Him the glory. I’m still working on patience and my abruptness, but I doubt I’ll ever have the charm of my spouse. After all, if we were just alike, one of us would be unnecessary!

The Rest of God

“There is something about winter that is peaceful,” I observed to my husband as we drove through the countryside on our way home from church Sunday. The muted greys and browns of fields and pastures were oddly restful, the stark trunks and branches of trees a black silhouette, contrasting against the drab sky. It was as if God were giving us a respite from the bright greens and glaring sun of summer, the riot of colors in spring, and even the recent jewel-toned woods of fall. A time of reflection after the distractions and activities of the warmer months.

Last night in our Bible study the focus centered on the rest God gives to His people as taught in Hebrews 4. The consensus seemed to be that it means “resting in complete faith and confidence in God.” For instance, in the previous verses, the Bible speaks of how the Israelites failed to enter into the promised land, or their rest, because of their unbelief.

Verses 3-4 of Hebrews 4 says, “For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all His works.”

God says that all the works were finished from the foundation of the world (just as it says Jesus Christ was slain from the foundation of the world). Verse 5 refers to entering into His rest, and the next verse reminds us that the children of Israel did not enter the Promised Land (rest) because of unbelief. Verse 10 concludes, “For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.”

In other words, since God has already finished His works, including providing all the benefits of Jesus going to the cross-- salvation, healing, wholeness--we are to cease trusting in our works, and rely completely upon Him! For, as it says in Hebrews 4:2, the Word which was preached to the Israelites did not profit them because it was not mixed with faith! They did not enter into his rest because of a lack of faith.

God is timeless. It is always today with Him. He says in verse 7, “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” How wonderful to rest from our labors and rest in complete confidence that God has already done all the works since the foundation of the world! Our only labor is to enter with faith into that rest!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Cat Burglar!

“Howard, what was that?” I exclaimed as I was startled from the edge of sleep. “I heard a door creak open!” I shook him with a harsh whisper. We listened for a moment and thought maybe it was the cat or dog coming in the cat door from outside. “Did you leave our door open?” I wondered as he got up stealthily.

He said he had closed the door. Well, it must not have been too firmly, because after we had lain back down, something plopped on the bed. The cat! It had pushed the door open and had been hiding under the bed!

Now this morning I awake to loud mewing and scratching on the other side of the door as he attempts to enter. That is the most persistent cat! He is my granddaughter’s beloved pet, but I am not much of a cat person. Still, I am the one he seems to want to glue himself to since we came to live with them.

A couple of nights ago he burst from our bedroom closet, which has two folding doors. The curious thing about the closet is that it is also accessible from the hall. “Was the hall closet door left open?” I demanded of my husband, yet knowing that if there is the slightest crack, an eager paw can force a feline entry through a folding door.

It is not a difficult task for “Sunshine” to push against the folds from the inside, but this morning when I was in the bathroom, I found he can also niggle a tiny crack into a paw-size opening from the other side of the door. Then, wedging his considerable Garfield-weight against it, he is in.

He reminds me of a cat, Gatsby, we used to have that would stalk outside our bedroom door in the morning meowing, “Howwaard, Theowlmaa,” until we put him outside. I’m sure it won’t be long until this one learns our names, too!

During our Gatsby days, I would often see our cat staring intently for long minutes at the base of a big tree near our deck. I later realized that a cat’s eyes are like vertical slits that can see upward without their ever moving their head. Gatsby was watching a bird, who would eventually hop to the ground for a speck of food it had spotted. Then the unwary bird would become cat food.

The Bible warns us, “Be sober, be vigilant’ because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour,” I Peter 5:8. A lion is just a big cat!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Small Fry

“Mama, I want to tell you something funny that Maddie said,” our son related over the phone. Since the two-year-old started talking several months ago, she astounds us with all the pent-up knowledge she had been keeping to herself! “We were watching a thing on TV where these guys took a helicopter to the top of a mountain, then snowboarded down,” he explained. Then he went on, “Maddie was standing there, and I heard her say worriedly, ‘Be careful!’”

I got a laugh out of that, and told Jamie that her nurturing and protective side was coming out. Watching children grow and develop is so fascinating, and the things they say often gives insight to the way they think. I laughed over two face book posts as an example of what comes out of their mouths. One mother of a 7 year-old boy wrote that her son pondered, “Why is it that God is in charge of us, adults are in charge of kids, kids are in charge of babies, and babies do whatever they want?” I guess he was feeling caught in the middle somewhere.

Another friend shared a story of a 5-year-old’s point of view on losing a pet. His mother was trying to explain that God’s plan is that after life on earth, all eventually die and go to heaven to be with God. The little boy retorted, “Yes, but what does God want with a dead dog?”

The other day I was alerted to watch a mini-video of my grandchildren at play. 5-year-old Anne-Marie and Maddie had called their daddy in to look at their surprise, which he had them re-create for the camera. When all was in readiness, Anne-Marie stood in front of a gigantic pile of toys and, with a flourish of her hand, announced dramatically: “Surprise!” Just then Maddie popped out of the toys like a jack-in-the-box, grinning from ear to ear and giving her own belated, “Surprise!”

I had gotten Maddie a Jack-in-the-Box for her first birthday, and she loved the suspense and surprise of the monkey popping up, which always brought squeals of delight from her. She was giving us a re-enactment. Which is what all kids do in their own way as they interpret life, never failing to give us a surprise!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

At the End of the Day

I had been in a funk all afternoon, disappointed that I would have to return my boots I'd found after much searching. I had brought home the wrong size. When I called the store, I was told they didn't have the size I wanted.

Cold weather puts me in a bad mood, too, and it has been cold and bleak for days, with the coldest weather of the season last night. A scratchy throat and a nagging headache hadn't improved my disposition, either.

I'd been so thankful this morning when I realized Howard had slept without pain in his foot that had been troubling him of late. We praised God that he could bear weight on it again! The swelling was disappearing and the appearance was improved!

My husband had been taking medicine, but not the kind you find in a bottle. He read healing scriptures three times a day--his prescription, he said. "The Bible says He sent his Word and healed them," he explained, "and this is His Word!" And thank God, it was effective!

With that victory, why did a little thing like my purchase have me down? I was ashamed and asked God to work it out about the boots. Although I didn't see how He would, I went to the store tonight, anyway. I saw the ones like the clerk had suggested as a second choice on the rack, and sure enough, they were impossibly high and not even pretty. I decided to take one more look around and went to the spot where I had originally found the ones I wanted. There in plain sight was the pair in just my (right) size! I took them to the counter and had the cashier, a different one on duty now, double check both boots so I wouldn't make a mistake again!

"That box on the floor is probably the boots the other girl was holding for me," I told her, "but you can just put them back. I found the ones I was looking for."

And my husband's search ended in success, too! He and another minister had been trying to make contact with a family with only an obituary as a clue, when the pieces to the puzzle fell into place in an unexpected way. The family who had been in need was reached and ministered to, opening up possibilites for further ministry in the future. It had been a good day, after all! "This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it!" Now that scripture is good medicine!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Of Boots and Biers

I left the store exhilarated! Two pairs of shoes and a pair of boots! The shoes were 70% off, and the boots were a bargain, too! They were the only ones I liked of the many pairs on display. They actually didn't have them in my size, 8, so I had tried on a 9 and a 7. The sevens felt great, but the size 9 slipped and felt clumsy. I took the smaller size. My husband and I were in an upbeat mood that I'd found something I liked and stopped for a pleasant lunch before going home.

Putting my purchase aside to wrap a Christmas present when I got home, then being distracted by phone calls, I finally pulled the box out of the shopping bag about two hours later. Admiring the boots before putting them in the closet, I happened to see the size on the box. They were the wrong ones! I put them on and noticed in dismay how loose they were! I immediately called the store. The clerk said she didn't have a size 7 left in the boots I wanted! Busy with a customer right then, she called me back a little later.

"I found your boots," she said. "They were mixed up with a pile of other boots." I breathed a sigh of relief.

I asked her if they were the style I had picked out, naming it, and she said yes. "Are they a size 8?" I asked, forgetting they had been out of that size.

"No, they are a 7. Did you want an 8? I don't have any 8s in that style," the harried clerk said.

"That's okay," I assured her, and asked her about the style again. This time she gave a different style name, but I was willing to consider them. "How high are the heels?" I questioned, to which she said, "About an inch-and-a-half." That sounded good so I asked her to hold them until I could go back later to see them.

The nice employee had checked in vain online for the other boots, giving me the idea to go on the computer and see for myself the new possibility she had described to me. Looking through pictures of dozens of boots, I finally found the ones of that style. I was shocked when I read the description. Heels: 3 1/4 inches. Yikes! I may just have to get a refund!

Meanwhile, my husband was on a hunt of his own, filled with as many dead-ends as my shoe search. A retired former pastor at church had read an obituary and concluded that a relative of the deceased had visited our church sometime in the past. Unable to track down the family himself, and since Howard is new at being interim pastor there and doesn't know a lot of people, our friend wanted to give him this clue to a contact possibility.

Howard went by the funeral home this morning and obtained the name of a sister of the former visitor, but not her phone number. He called me earlier with the news that his employer had gone to the aforesaid funeral this afternoon! Calling back a few minutes ago, he wanted the number of the other minister, eager to tell him that his boss had gotten back from the services and knows the family well. Maybe they'll be more successful in their soul search than I have been in my search for a sole of the shoe (boot) variety!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sights and Sounds of Christmas

"It's snowing!" my granddaughter, Allison, reported when she came in from shopping awhile ago. The first flakes of the season! I wonder what it will be like in the morning! It's supposed to be a low 16 degrees tonight. Christmas is bursting out all over, here at the house and around town. The tree in the living room has had fluffy garlands of popcorn added to the homemade ornaments today. It is a work in progress, having been freshly cut from a tree farm two days ago.

Family members sit at the dining room table wrapping packages of mysterious shapes and sizes, and we are in the midst of showings on TV of 25 Christmas-themed movies from now until Christmas. Tonight I caught a bit of "Polar Express," but I found it too bizarre for my tastes. Even though our holiday is called Christmas, there are very few references to the true meaning of Christmas as relates to the Babe in the manger. Thankfully, I did see one message from a local car dealer that stressed the Biblical story of Jesus' birth.

We even went shopping ourselves, today. The cold snap prompted a sudden desire for more sweaters and a few other winter things. Yesterday after church, we stopped at a gift and bake sale at the historic home at Cann Gardens. There were many cars parked outside, but it turned out they mostly belonged to members of the Garden Club who were grouped in little clusters of conversation in the living and dining room of the house.

The gray-haired, perfectly coifed ladies in their festive Christmas sweaters watched with interest as we eyed their small plates of goodies offered for sale--tiny cookies, miniscule loaves of bread, and coffee-cakes cubed into bite-size pieces under saran wrap. There were also small jars of pepper jelly and fruit jams for a considerable price. We got a tiny lemon/poppy seed cake which turned out to be delicious, the intense flavor bursting like a surprise on our tastebuds. It was worth every bit of the $3 it cost.

With Christmas less than three weeks away, things are bound to get busier around here. But there is a peacefulness, too, for I feel no pressure to do anything but enjoy the season and reflect on the deeper meaning of Christmas. May all the trimmings and trappings of shopping, decorating, baking and feasting not hide what the celebration is all about. God's Son, Jesus, being born as a Baby to become the greatest Gift of all.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Seasonal Rituals

"Do you want to go with us to get a Christmas tree?" my son asked. I was cold and covered with a blanket to take a nap. My husband was studying, so I told him no.

"Oh, come on, Mom, it will be fun!" Greg insisted. Howard seemed suddenly willing to put down his books, so I got my coat and grumbled at the chilly temperatures.

"We'll just stay in the car," I said as the rest of the family got out to go select and cut a Christmas tree. Again, I was dissuaded. I had to come in to the little shop, my son persisted. With the promise of hot chocolate, I went along.

The reception/gift shop was something of a combination stable and Santa's workshop. The exposed rafters sheltering the snug room with the straw-strewn floor lent a rustic charm to the whole space. Wooden Christmas crafts decorated the walls, and a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, emanating off-key strains of the Charlie Brown Christmas song as played by Lucy, sat on the pay counter. Free hot chocolate and cookies awaited tree buyers, trudging cold and shivering into the warmth.

This looked like a good place for the old folks to wait while the others braved the elements and wielded the saw on the trunk of the perfect tree. Revolving family groups came in steadily as we sat on bales of hay and drank our hot chocolate. One little girl was more interested in watching her handfuls of tossed straw flutter down than in the refreshments. The friendly proprietor showed an earnest tot how to peel the paper halfway from his candy cane so he could lick it without getting his hands sticky.

Between groups, my husband engaged the talkative clerk in conversation. Finding out he was a minister, she found common ground to talk of her father's Sunday School class preparation. "Do you study early in the week, or on Saturday?" she asked. Their chat was cut short when our son came in and announced the tree had been procured and went to pay for it.

Feeling festive by this time, everyone wanted to ride around the Christmas "Festival of Angels" lights at the lake. The children ooh-ed and aah-ed at the animated scenes of a runaway gingerbread man, elf-borne packages tossed into Santa's bag, the Nativity, Cinderella, her pumpkin coach and prince, and on and on with vignettes of the old west and other delights all around us in lighted displays. "Oh, you have a Christmas tree!" the attendants at the exit exclaimed of our still-roped tree atop the SUV. They gave us a handful of candy canes as we chorused, "Merry Christmas!" and dropped our donation into the pail.

After the table was cleared of a late supper of quiche and cottage cheese-and-fruit salad whipped up by our daughter-in-law, its surface was covered with fresh-baked and cooled salt-dough ornaments to be painted by the children to go on the waiting tree in the corner. Tomorrow we would string popcorn, but right now I was going to bed!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Abundant Life

One of the highlights of our family get-together recently was watching a colorized version of "A Wonderful Life" in High Definition on our son's wall screen. Such a thought-provoking story of the importance of an ordinary life, though it was only a fictionalized account of an angel's intervention.

I was thinking of the Christmas story and how Joseph was warned in a dream by an angel to take Mary and baby Jesus and flee to Egypt for His safety. These were the days before the instant communication we have now. There was no early warning system for the storm that was about to erupt in the lives of parents of young children who would be murdered. No e-mail to alert the unaware of the impending danger. Only evangel (messenger) express from heaven in the form of an angel as recorded in Matthew 2:13, "And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him."

We heard a true story of a missionary/evangelist working under adverse conditions overseas. Suffering many hardships, he had no automobile, but he had remarkable success in his ministry. Some kind-hearted supporters from back home decided to help him out and raised money to provide a vehicle for him. Although he was appreciative and enjoyed the car very much, he had reason to wish they hadn't blessed him with it. Before, when he was dependent upon God to bring him into contact with the lost, he would find himself miraculously transported to distant places where he preached the gospel and won many souls. Once he got his own transportation, he no longer had these supernatural experiences!

It seems God only works miracles when a situation is desperate. In our country, we have access to so many conveniences, from doctors to good food, sanitation, ease of travel and communication, that we rarely call upon God as a first-response Provider. We take for granted and depend on all these things (which, of course, are God given), only turning to prayer as a last resort. Like the scenario of a bad situation when someone suggested prayer, and was met with the alarmed response, "Has it come to that?" No doubt desperation is the reason we hear of so many miracles in third-world countries where people have no other choice but to depend upon God.

All it takes is something to shake our personal world for us to get serious with God. We were up last night praying for a physical problem that had arisen with my husband. He had seemingly injured his foot unknowingly and was experiencing pain and swelling. At last he felt victory and was able to fall into a sound sleep, awaking refreshed. Nevertheless, we checked it out with a doctor later, who, after tests, ruled out anything serious. No treatment was required for only a superficial clot that would clear up by itself. We felt God did a miracle! Thank You, Lord, that you provide a wonderful life where there is always instant communication in prayer!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gratitude

My youngest son, Jamie, called me last night to thank me for his birthday card. He will be 36 day after tomorrow. I just remembered I was 36 when he was born! That means I'm twice as old as he is! Okay, I've told my age.

I was bouyed, though, when my husband and I were at the prescription window today. The assistant asked for his birthday, and he gave her the old run-around. He usually gives them the month and day, but gives a ridiculously recent year. She remembered him, though, and said suspiciously, "You're the one who does something with 32... or 38, aren't you?"

"Thirty-eight," I chimed in. "He doesn't like to give his age, but that's when he was born." She said in surprise that he looked young, and I agreed. Then I had to tell her the year I was born, and she looked at me askance.

"For real?" She said. "You're 72?" She didn't believe me, to my delight, but I thanked her anyway.

"What is your secret?" she asked after we had convinced her we were telling the truth, "You two don't look your age at all!"

"Clean living, married 53 years," I shrugged, then added, "and serving God," while my husband announced, "Six kids and 18 grandkids!"

"Very attractive couple," she said, shaking her head.

Wow! I walked on air all the way to the car. I knew she was used to seeing a lot of sick people who were probably at their worst, but her words still made me feel good.

When I got in the car, I admitted to my husband that we have a lot to be thankful for. Active, and in relatively good health, we don't often feel our age. Then I thought about the amazing family we are blessed with, and I couldn't hold back the tears. We are so thankful that they all serve the Lord, and have brought up their children to serve Him, too.

Although we are widely scatterd, we have peace and harmony with all our children, their spouses and families, and they all love and appreciate one another. I know that that can be a rarity, these days.

My husband is fond of quoting Proverbs 10:22, which says, "The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it." I have always down-played compliments on our family, not wishing to appear prideful, but I must acknowledge the goodness of God and the truth of His Word. He has enriched us in so many ways apart from money. We have always had enough and some to share, the children learned the work ethic early on, and we have remarkable grandchildren. Thankfully, our sorrows have been few, and our blessings have been many. That makes getting old worth it!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Taken by Surprise?

"Please identify any items you left behind at Thanksgiving," the e-mail from our son who had hosted the family last week, read. Well, I didn't leave anything, I thought smugly as I pulled up the photo captioned, "Thanksgiving Lost and Found". Our detail-oriented offspring (he calls it OCD) had everything neatly arranged and evenly spread out on a black background for our convenience and/or surprise.

I recognized a striped hoodie shirt I had seen on my grandson, and a game cube his brother had been playing with non-stop. Other items--headbands, doll blanket, and small slippers could only have been left by the two little girls in our party. There were also a couple of pair of glasses--sunglasses and reading glasses--but they weren't mine. Then my eyes fell on a coiled, black item that looked familiar. My belt! The patent leather-looking one with the pretty square buckle! I hadn't even missed it!

What I had missed while I was there was a belt for a sweater I had brought. Getting dressed to go out, I reached for a coiled length of black grosgrain and put it around my waist, ready to close the buckle fastener, when I looked down to see I had a guitar strap in my hand! How could this happen? I distinctly remembered seeing my belt on my bed and putting it into the suitcase! I must have gotten the look-alike (except for a loop to go around the neck) strap by mistake! So I had to improvise with the belt I now see in the e-mail photo!

Another surprise we had on our adventure was when Jamie, the chef, pulled a show-stopper at dinner. He had placed all the beautiful side dishes on the Thanksgiving table, and set the nicely-done turkey in the center. "I never have figured out how to carve these things," he said as he held the knife poised over the breast of the tantalizing centerpiece. Then, to our amazement, he sliced completely through it crossways, slice after luscious slice, revealing the stuffing underneath.

"How did he do that?" someone gasped. Then I remembered seeing him debone the turkey that morning, leaving only wings and drumsticks intact. It had the desired effect of surprise on the guests.

We were surprised again when Grandma's voice emanated from the tape recorder he had set down in the middle of a game that night. What a poignant and sentimental experience that was as she told old family stories that had us laughing and crying at the same time.

Surprises may be delightful or alarming, but there is no reason for us to be surprised about our eternal destiny. If we have put on the full armor of God, including the helmet of salvation and the belt of Truth, we will not be left behind; we will be reunited with our saved loved ones at a beautiful supper in heaven, where we will all be wearing our wedding garment, without spot or wrinkle or wardrobe malfunction!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Voices

"USE YOUR OUTSIDE VOICE," the billboard read as we traveled along the interstate highway on our way home from Texas. Clever, I thought, (even though I wished the kiddos traveling with us would use their inside voices). By appealing to advertisers to take advantage of the millions of people passing daily or weekly and reading a commercial message, the billboard offered a unique avenue of communication.

Use your outside voice. Isn't that what John the Baptist did in the days before modern communication? In his raiment of camel's hair, the rugged outdoorsman announced himself as "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight," Matthew 3:3. In verse 2, he preached, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

Jesus had grown up by then and was ready to accomplish His mission. But when He was born, thirty years earlier, the angels had heralded his birth with their "outside voices" to shepherds on a Judean hillside. We know it as the Christmas story as recorded in Luke 2:1-20. First, the angel of the Lord appeared to them, and to reassure them in their fright, said, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." Then he told them of Jesus' birth in the city of David and gave them the sign of finding the child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men." You can be sure they were using their outside voices!

Several times during Jesus' ministry, God affirmed His Son in His outside voice: First, when Jesus came up from baptism, God spoke from a cloud saying, "Thou art my beloved son; in thee I am well pleased." And again on the Mount of Transfiguration, God re-emphasized in His outside voice, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him," Matthew 17:5.

Jesus used his outside voice when He stilled the waters, cast out demons, called forth Lazarus, and countless other times. Sometimes he magnified his voice by using the natural amplification of the lakes and mountains when he taught. Finally, He used his outside voice when he cried out from the cross, saying, "It is finished," completing the work of our salvation.

Once more His outside voice will be heard when, as in I Thessalonians 4:16, it says, "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the arch-angel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first." And if we are alive and have heard the shout, the next verse promises, "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." One outside Voice you don't want to miss!

Blast from the Past

What a slice of history we were experiencing! In the middle of a family huddle of conversation and laughter over the dining table at our son, Jamie's, house, I was suddenly aware of my own voice coming from a tape recorder. "When did you record that?" I asked in surprise. Then I realized I was hearing a tape made some 20 years ago by our then highschool son when we were on a trip to "Grandma's".

"Grandma", my mother, was being interviewed for posterity by Jamie, her sixteen-year-old grandson. And here was posterity giving rapt attention to her colorful tales told in her dear, familiar voice, unheard for the past 15 years. "These are folk tales!" her great-grandson, Grant, exclaimed in delight. Grant doesn't remember much about my mother, having seen her only a few times in his young life; she passed away when he was only seven.

A natural story-teller, Mama had us holding our sides in laughter as she recounted outlandish adventures she recalled from the "hard times" of the 1940s. I was familiar with these stories, and I could hear myself faintly in the background jogging her 82-year-old memory, or reminding her to speak into the mic. (When her voice grew faint, it was because she had put the microphone to her ear like a telephone.) Then, enjoying the blunder as much as anyone, she laughed at herself, her voice pealing out in delight to us across the airwaves and across the years.

Mama's stories were kind of like the Bible, telling the unvarnished truth in un-sugar-coated realism of their desperate hard times that called for desperate measures. Yet when told from her distant vantage point, any embarrassment or disgrace dissolved in the hilarity and novelty of the situations, especially to the ears of her hearers.

This bridge to the past, a lesson in perseverance to her descendants, only makes us appreciate more the goodness of God, who brought our family through to stability and a measure of prosperity when faith in Him became the cornerstone of our lives. Thank you, Mama, for helping us to remember.

Monday, November 28, 2011

I'd Know You Anywhere!

“Allison?” the stranger said questioningly, looking intently at my 19-year-old granddaughter. We had just entered Houston’s biggest and most famous shopping mall, the Galleria, during our Thanksgiving trip from Oklahoma. “Is that you?”

“Yes. Hi!” Allison said. With a brief how have you been, the moment was past. In answer to my puzzled look, she offered, “That was someone I used to know in Louisiana.”

In Louisiana? Wow! They had moved from there six years ago! And imagine the odds that the first person we ran into in the crowded mall was someone she knew!

It reminded me of the time we were in Houston at Ikea, and we bumped into a former church member from Mississippi. She now lived near Houston, an area of some 3 million people, and we were living in Oklahoma. Amazing! Or the time we lived in New Orleans and had taken a vacation to the Smoky Mountains. We stopped at a convenience store in Birmingham and found ourselves parked beside our next-door neighbors from home!

It is startling and usually a happy surprise when you run into someone like this. We had stopped at the Welcome Center in Texas as we came from Oklahoma last week with our son and family. We noticed a couple playing with a darling puppy on the grass in front of the building and walked over to admire it. As the children petted the pudgy little charmer, my husband engaged the man in conversation. Turns out he drives a truck which delivers to a company where a friend of ours works. He knew him well!

I Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known.”

We have instant access to so much information today, thanks to the internet, but that is nothing compared to the full knowledge we will have in Heaven. And although we can reconnect with people from nearly every stage in our lives via Facebook, imagine the joy of seeing so many in Glory face-to-face! Some may even be a surprise to you (and you to them)!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Give and It Shall Be Given

"Mama, you said God would bless me if I gave money in the offering, and He did!" My 12-year-old granddaughter exclaimed to her mother. Her uncle had just given his young visiting nieces and nephews money as Christmas gifts. Rachel wasted no time in enjoying this blessing as she shopped at the Galleria later yesterday.

I had to agree with the sentiment myself last night. With my family scattered far and wide, I take advantage of the chance to give them their gifts early if I will be seeing them before Christmas. Not long ago I had seen a gorgeous soup tureen at an amazingly low price at an estate sale, and, against all logic, since I would soon be downsizing and putting things into storage, I bought it. I enjoyed it for a couple of weeks and then the thought occured to me that it would make a wonderful present for my daughter I would see at Thanksgiving.

But what to give to the rest of the family? The wonderful big Scrabble set I had found at a previous sale would be perfect. I liked it a lot, but they had so enjoyed using it on a visit a few weeks ago, I decided to give it to them. And they were thrilled with it, thanking me profusely before loading it into their vehicle to take home to Georgia.

Then yesterday, following through with the activities on our hosts', Jamie and Tammy's, agenda, we browsed through the corridors and stores of the Galleria in Houston. We picked up a couple of items, including a cushy gingerbread man for our grandbaby at a build-your-own teddy bear store, but we really didn't shop.

Later on, we filled a couple of hours at a bookstore until dark when we could take a tour of seeing Christmas lights with the family. I had covered the entire store twice, and had bought nothing but a birthday card. Several books and displays were interesting, but nothing called out "buy me".

Just as I was headed to the exit to join the others, my son, Trevor, called out to me. "Mom! Did you see that giant Scrabble board back there?" No, I hadn't seen it, just the regular-looking ones in the games department. But my eyes lit up and I asked where, exactly. He pointed me in the direction, and I found a huge, deluxe edition with inch-high letters in an attractive carrying case displaying a colorful game board. I loved it! It looked expensive, though!

"The sign says 50% off," I said to the clerk. "Does that include these?" I asked her.

"Yes, it was supposed to be just for the smaller games, but we decided to include this, too. But just for today," she emphasized. Well, it was Black Friday, after all. My heart leapt at the possibility of getting the beautiful set. I asked if I could take it to show my husband, and she offered to carry it up front when I remarked how heavy it was.

"Are you buying that?" my son asked, wide-eyed, when he saw me following the sales clerk. I told him I wanted to see if Howard would buy it for me, and he said, "I'll buy it for you!" I protested, but he was adamant. How sweet to buy me such a wonderful gift! I thought.

When we got back to Jamie's house, everyone exclaimed over the handsome board, and my husband and our son, Mark, joined Trevor and me for a game. What fun we had and what a pleasure to whirl the effortless turntable and admire the beautiful "Giant Edition" with its walnut frame. Was God blessing me for unselfishly giving away my other treasured set? I believe He was!

Friday, November 25, 2011

In His Image

Oh,no! Anne-Marie got hurt! I thought, as I saw my 5-year-old granddaughter wailing, face red and tears pouring, in the wagon with the other small children. Someone rushed and picked her up, but she was inconsolable. They carried her to where we were sitting at a picnic table, and she was still boo-hooing.

"What happened?" I questioned. "Is she hurt?"

"No. Maddie told her she didn't like her." What? Her two-year-old sister hurt her feelings? Anne-Marie was nodding to my question under tear-soaked lashes.

The wagon was pulled up, and the crest-fallen, red-haired culprit climbed out. She looked up at her big sister and said, with some prodding, "I sow-wy."

"Now tell her you love her," she was instructed, to which Maddie said softly, "I wuv you." Then they hugged in a sisterly embrace and the sun came out again. The clouds were rolled away as quickly as the storm had arisen.

New, visiting playmates were present on this Thanksgiving afternoon, and Maddie had temporarily transferred her loyalties to them in some small infraction in the crowded wagon, I suppose, and offended her sensitive sister.

Later, when I told their mother what had happened, Tammy remarked on Anne-Marie's tender nature. "I never have to scold her," she said. "Just a word of correction or a look is all it takes. If I do more, she crumples into tears." We laughed about the difference in the little girls.

Maddie's personality, at this stage anyway, seems robust and tough in comparison to the little sunbeam that is her sister. A serious baby frown often creases her two-year-old brow as she seems to hold the world at a distance until she is good and ready to invite you into her good graces (which is always worth the wait).

God makes us all unique, with our special gifts. That is no doubt one reason the Bible says to train up a child in the way he should go. Watching children develop and observing their traits is like opening a present, discovering something new and different, though no less valuable, in every one. God is a God of infinite variety and newness. My husband is fond of saying, "They made one like (her or him) and quit," to which I say, "Who? No one is like the other!" Rather, He made each one, then broke the mold! And thank God, He did!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Give Thanks

“Did you get the CD on ‘The Blessing’ that I sent you?” Howard asked our daughter, Amy, who had joined us at our Thanksgiving reunion yesterday.

“Yes! I love it!” Amy responded enthusiastically. We had gotten a teaching on the Numbers 6 Blessing, or the Aaronic Blessing, as recorded in the biblical book of Numbers, Chapter 6. Howard had sent a copy of the CD to our two daughters and had been sharing the concept with almost everyone he talks to and incorporating it into his sermons.

“I’ve been praying it over my patients!” Amy exclaimed, to her father’s delight.

“You have?” he remarked in surprise. “What do they say?”

“They love it!” she said. Then she explained to family who overheard the conversation that she is the Director of Out Patient Surgery at the hospital where she works in Georgia. “I especially pray it over those who are nervous about their surgery. Sometimes they are upset and crying, and they are very receptive!”

She went on, “One lady said, ‘You’re Methodist, aren’t you?’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘Baptist?’ ‘No, I’m Church of God,’ I told her. ‘Then lay hands on me again!’ she insisted!”

“I’m always praying it over my children, too,” Amy emphasized. “I believe in it!”

The scripture says, “The Lord bless thee and keep thee: The Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious to thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee and give thee peace,” Numbers 6:23-26.

I can’t think of a better blessing to pronounce at our Thanksgiving table, and I’m sure my husband, the patriarch of the 26 of our clan gathered today, plus a couple of others joining us, will be called upon to pray it!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Favor

Oh, how cute! I thought when I saw the little Castle Tent in the circular. That would be perfect to take to my five-year-old granddaughter (who is all about princesses) when we see her tomorrow! It was Howard’s day off and I suggested we drive to our “shopping town” where the store is located. The big sale was to start Monday, and that was today. I was a little fuzzy on the details, though, but I was thinking the special prices began at 4:00 pm.

We took the toy to the register. “I know it’s not four o’clock yet,” my husband said to the cashier, “but can we get this for the special price? We’re from out of town.”

The young man checked the sale paper. “No,” he said, “This goes on sale on Black Friday.” Black Friday! That would be Thursday at midnight, and we would be in Texas by then! I wanted to go ahead and pay the full price, but Howard wanted to think about it. Oh, well, she has too many toys, anyway, I consoled myself. Disappointment hung like a stubborn cloud in the back of my mind as I walked away. I checked out some advertised boots, but the rock bottom prices were for Friday, too.

I looked around for my husband, and I glimpsed him at the register. He was buying the tent! “Did you change your mind?” I asked him. He was in a jovial mood, and the clerk was saying something about how much he had saved! “What happened?” I asked him as he handed me the bag.

A woman had been standing at the counter with her purchases, and hearing our discussion with the cashier, Howard told me she had said to the clerk, “Can’t you come up with some coupons or something for this man?” Evidently he had, giving us 20%-and 15%-off coupons that were in effect all day Monday! I had forgotten about that! With the 35% reduction, we got our purchase for less than the sale price! Thank you, Lord!

I thought about that last night at our Bible study when the leader asked for any testimonies. A man had just disclosed that he had had a distinct impression from the Lord that when we hold our arms up and out in worship, it is like a funnel for us to receive from God. (I visualized a hopper car on a train.) We had started the meeting with praise choruses including the one which says, “I saw the Lord: He was high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.” Howard’s sermon title on Sunday! He had already shared about our spiritual blessings that day when the visitor sang “Holy Ground”, so apropos for his message.

So I told about my bargain. Then the leader, passing me a notebook, asked me to read the word he had written previously at the top of the page for his topic: RECEIVE. In Matthew 10:8, the Bible say, “Freely you have received, freely give.” Matthew 10:8. Truly the reason for being blessed!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Brotherly Love

Neighborliness and good will are alive and well! I just read a story in our local newspaper of a family of 11 whose van had broken down (down as in dragging the interstate with sparks flying!) on I-35 near neighboring Blackwell (where I grew up), stranding them in the middle of a 2,000-plus mile trip.

The Ministerial Alliance of Blackwell and our city, working through the Salvation Army, put them in motel rooms for five days; a local technology center cancelled lesson plans for the week so that all students could fix the van; a local pastor found used parts in Wichita, Kansas, a new tire was procured at cost in Tonkawa and a muffler in Ponca City. Finally, the displaced group was ready to be on their way, admittedly leaving a part of their hearts in northern Oklahoma. They were quoted as saying they didn’t want to leave here. No wonder! Such kind folks!

Then this morning just as Sunday School was about to start, a pastor and his wife from another church denomination stopped by. They had come about two weeks ago to express sympathy and offer prayer for the pastor and victims of the horrendous accident that had just occurred. Today, he told my husband, who is Interim Pastor, that he had another offering: he wanted his wife to bless us with a solo that she is slated to also perform tonight at a community Thanksgiving service.

And bless us she did! As the magnificent strains of “We Are Standing on Holy Ground” poured forth, congregants stood to their feet, hands raised and tears streaming. What a holy moment! The song touched a chord that embodied shared feelings of gratitude and praise, as well as solace for the trauma we had all gone through. Then as my husband began to preach, it was apparent to all that the song segued perfectly into his message concerning Isaiah’s vision of seeing the Lord “high and lifted up” and the angels' cries of “Holy, Holy, Holy”.

Before the visiting pastor departed, he made the surprising revelation that their church is to receive an offering tonight for our pastors to help with medical expenses. Now that’s neighborliness AND true religion!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Optical Illusion?

“You can’t park there! It is a handicap spot!” I interrupted Howard’s turn toward the space. He reluctantly reconsidered and found another parking place.

“That was a parking place!” he insisted, “It wasn’t handicapped!” I maintained that it was, since I’d seen the big blue wheelchair painted on the surface. “Will you promise not to get mad if I show you I’m right?” he asked, but certain of myself, I told him yes, if he would not get mad when he found I was right.

His eyes widened when he saw the spot, but he said, teasing, “I only said it was a parking place, and it is!” I reminded him that he said it wasn’t handicapped, so I was right.

Things are not always what they seem. Though we enjoyed the verbal sparring about the parking place, I sometimes think the enemy distorts our perspective and doesn’t miss a chance to spoil things for us. For instance, at church the other evening, my husband entered the pulpit in a victorious mode. “Praise the Lord!” he exclaimed, waving his arm enthusiastically. The more he moved his arm, and it seemed interminable to me, the more the hem of his long-sleeved knit shirt looked strange. It seemed to be unraveling, with part of the sleeve hem drooping at his wrist.

Stop singing! I thought. But he sang and pumped his arm even more. My eyes were glued to his wrist, and I was sure everyone else’s were, too. Was it my imagination? Was the sleeve only tucked under a little, making a wrinkle? I tried to look away, willing my mind back upon the words we were singing.

Why is this bothering me so? I asked myself. But I could just imagine the disparaging thoughts the church ladies were thinking: Why doesn’t she make sure his clothes are in good repair? (In reality, I do well to get myself ready, and trust him to do the same, although I usually spot a wardrobe mistake before we leave.) Sometimes the hem looked normal, and I would relax, only to have it pop out again. My eyes seemed to playing tricks on me.

At last Howard gave the microphone to someone else and sat down. Unbelievably, his sleeve looked perfectly fine, then. When I examined it as he took his seat, nothing was wrong! “Why did your sleeve look funny up there?” I asked him later. He said he had turned it under! No wonder it was slipping out!

Well, at least the hem hadn’t come loose. We had a wonderful service and I was ashamed of my useless embarrassment. Lord, forgive me of pride and help me in “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Last Flight

“This is so sad. Olin and Dusty were such sweet people,” I read as I idly scanned face book posts. Then I saw the words, plane crash, and recognized two familiar names. It couldn’t be! The pilot couple we had met one day at the church next door to our son’s house! In fact, they came a couple of times and were long-time friends of the pastor. I remember asking the petite, attractive, senior citizen about her name.

“Is your name, Dusty, because you were a crop duster?” I asked her, half joking. She said no, she had never sprayed crops, but somehow she had picked up that nickname. I read in the news clip that her name was Paula. I couldn’t believe it when she told me she was 81. She looked sixty to me.

Her husband was a former state senator. We had run into him one other time at the hospital. He recognized us right away and had a friendly greeting and witty remark about something. In retrospect I remember the day they were at the church I wasn’t feeling well and had prayer for healing. As I sat down, he said, “Well, you look pretty!”

The paper said they were taking the OSU Basketball coach and assistant, who were also killed, on a recruiting trip. They had told us about their work with Angel Flights, providing air transportation for charity or community service. “I’ve carried lots of hearts,” he told us.

For the second time in two weeks we have been startled by unexpected deaths in people we knew, if ever so slightly. Again, we are saying to ourselves and each other, “You just never know.” When Howard said that to me the other day after our pastors and evangelist were injured in a wreck and the evangelist’s wife was killed, I said, “Yes, you do know. It’s a fact that we will all leave this life someday. It’s just that we don’t know when.”

“Whenever you asked Dusty how she was, she always said, ‘I’m blessed,’ my friend’s fb post continued. “You can guarantee they’re singing in heaven right now,” she finished.

Olin, the honorable senator, carried hearts, extending lives to those on earth, and making many hearts glad. Now they have taken their last Angel Flight, this time themselves carried by angels, as all will be who have given their heart to Him.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Holidays Ahead!

We had our first hard freeze last night. The other nights when frost was forecast, I dutifully covered my lush ferns and orange fall flowers, blooming so brightly and bravely in the planter my husband made for them. I had written them off as goners after they were crisped by horrid temperatures this summer. But much watering, plus the moderate autumn weather had given them new life, now snatched away by the inevitable cold snap.

I checked on them this morning, since we haven’t completely vacated our house at our former address. My ferns are brown and wilted at the edges, with some of the fronds turned a dark, reddish color. I feel like a neglectful parent. But when we are away next week for Thanksgiving, I couldn’t have protected them anyway, so I surrender to the elements and the forces of nature in what could be an early winter.

My granddaughter writes that there is snow in Tennessee, and the annual Christmas tree has been erected here in the middle of a downtown intersection, so I must admit that the holidays are upon us. We are cozily ensconced and snug for the winter at the home of our son and family, so I will leave it to their traditions to decorate for Christmas. However, I am thinking of bringing my skinny, pre-lit tree to tuck in some tiny space in our small den for a seasonal accent and cheering spot of color.

Speaking of holidays, I called my five-year-old granddaughter, Anne-Marie, this morning to wish her a Happy Birthday, but I was informed she had gone on a field trip with her pre-kindergarten class. I asked my son about Maddie, the two-year-old, and found that she was on the field trip too, as her mommy was required to go as a sponsor. Their father told me that the Birthday Girl had received her card from me yesterday, and that the “Do Not Disturb Princess” door-knob hanger that came with it was hanging from her bedroom door. The other side reads, “The Princess Will See You Now” when she permits access to her room.

Only 5 days ’til we get to see the Princesses at their house in Houston! I’m so looking forward to seeing most of my kids and their families there! I think our day-after-Thanksgiving activities include the glitzy Galleria shopping mall, a spectacle of lights and color sure to put us in the Christmas spirit. No doubt the young teen grandchildren will be gliding on the indoor ice rink as the rest of us watch from the sidelines at the winter scene below, belying the fact that it is most likely a warm, humid Houston day outside. If it’s still as cold here as it is today, I’m sure I won’t mind at all!

Something Smells Good!

An unfamiliar car pulled in next to us in the church parking lot. It seemed to be full of white-haired ladies. As they trailed along the walk on this cold, winter-feeling evening, they reminded me of little snowbirds bobbing their way into the church. Later, as my husband announced, “Sue has a song for us tonight,” introducing our own sprightly 80-something who had invited the visitors, she said, “My friends from Willow Creek Apartments are going to sing with me.” They were from her Bible Study group.

A quartet! What a treat, I thought as they made their way to the platform. The ladies were introduced, along with their respective parts: soprano, alto, tenor and, I believe, contralto. Suddenly the church was filled with sweet, ethereal music. Soft, tremulous voices blended in soothing harmony like a refreshing breeze after the robust enthusiasm of our spirited song service. I would compare it later to “a sweet smelling savor” mentioned in our guest speaker’s message that would follow.

Various lay speakers had been scheduled for mid-week service under my husband’s leadership, as our church adjusted to our pastor’s absence during his recuperation. Tonight it was a lady preacher I had never heard, a regular member of the congregation who could not attend on Sundays due to the outside ministries she shared with her husband. Her peppery style and irrepressible joy were a bubbling brook, tumbling and overtaking her words in a rush of Holy Ghost zeal as she gave her charge of commitment to the attentive listeners.

“Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life,” she read from II Corinthians 2:15-16.

Previously, others’ prayer requests were put on hold as, in wisdom and compassion, the leader had us stop and pray immediately for an urgent plea for a recent convert who was being pulled into temptation. The last part of verse 16 asks, “And who is sufficient for these things?” as Paul stresses the magnitude of our responsibility and the significance of our influence on others and their eternal destinies. May we always be the fragrance of Christ to them!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Juniors and Seniors

“Mommy, look! That man hurts!” my just-turning-5 granddaughter said to her mother. They were in the mall, and Anne-Marie had noticed a man with a very large bandage on his face.

Knowing her daughter’s compassionate nature and being sensitive to the Lord’s leading, Tammy replied, “Do you want to pray for him?” Anne-Marie was thoughtful and said she didn’t know, although she has prayed ever since she was small. (Once she even prayed for Mickey Mouse whose feelings had been “hurt” by Pluto.) They approached the man and Tammy asked if he minded if they had prayer for him. He was surprised, but agreeable.

After her mother had offered a short prayer, she asked Anne-Marie if she wanted to pray. The little girl stretched forth her hand, pointed her finger and commanded, “Be healed! In Jesus’ Name!”

Obviously touched, the stranger stammered, “I love--I mean--I thank you!”

God can use anyone, young or old. My husband had served as associate pastor at a church here for three years, but about six months ago God moved us to another church. We had been feeling a sense of unrest for some time, and Howard had even been considering going on the evangelistic field. This was one of the reasons we decided to free ourselves up from the expense of maintaining a home and accepted the offer to share the home of our son and his family.

Meanwhile, we have been loving our new church, with my husband playing the guitar for the worship services and preaching a couple of times when the pastor was away or just needed a break. He was scheduled to preach just recently, but a week before the date had come, everything changed. Our pastor, his wife, and our evangelist were seriously injured in an accident that tragically took the life of the evangelist’s wife.

Howard was called on to fill in for the pastor. Then he was asked to become Interim Pastor during our pastor’s rehabilitation and recovery from his injuries. How remarkable that we had settled there and had become comfortable with the congregation and they with us, as if we were put in place for such a time as this!

God knows all. He sees the future while we walk by faith and trust in Him. We are thankful that we can do our part in holding the congregation together as He binds us with His love and comfort, pouring out spiritual blessings in abundance in our time of need!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Priorities

I ran across an article that mentioned a famous painting called, Left Behind: Mountains Ahead. It showed discarded goods of a wagon train as people were forced to give up treasured possessions to lighten the load for the greater good of getting safely over the mountains. I looked it up on the internet and saw the artist’s conception of pieces of nice furniture, a chest with clothing and jewelry spilling out, and an ornate full-length mirror scattered incongruously across the prairie.

It reminded me of moving from our house to share the house of our son’s family recently. I had to decide on what to take and what to leave behind and put into storage. We could take enough to furnish a small den and a spacious bedroom, plus, of course, winter clothing and personal items. At first, our new place had a decorator look, with carefully placed accessories and furniture arrangements. But each time I returned to our former home, I collected a few more items. I just couldn’t leave my beautiful books, favorite wall art, a footstool or small table that could surely fit into a corner, let alone any of a dozen pair of shoes I had to have.

Finally I had to stop. But the funny thing is, I don’t even miss the other stuff now! In fact, it’s kind of a relief not to have to dust it and be distracted by it. Buying and collecting things (especially at estate sales!) is so fun and entertaining, but when you have them in your possession, you have to make room for them and take care of them. It’s almost as if things own you. But to be free of things (not that I am completely, of course) is an exhilarating feeling! To be in the midst of family trumps boredom and loneliness surrounded by inanimate objects anytime!

We read in the Bible of Paul’s exciting journey to Rome as a prisoner aboard a ship. When a major storm called Euroclydon, a northeaster, arose, they had to begin to lighten the ship (Acts 27:18). On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard. By verse 37, after Paul encouraged the terrified sailors to eat, they further lightened the ship and threw the wheat into the sea. Later, they cast off the anchors and left them in the tempestuous sea, v.30. (Even though the ship eventually fell apart, all were saved from drowning as God had assured Paul.)

I’m sure at some point I’ll be happy to be reunited with our “stuff”; after all, much of it is full of memories. But the intangible things that we hold in our heart are the most important. The prophetic scripture in Hebrews 12:26-27, echoes Haggai 2:6-7 when it says, “Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” Material things are temporal, or temporary, but the unseen is eternal. And it doesn’t weigh a thing!

Workers Together

“Mom, you should hear what Anne-Marie’s Sunday School teacher told me this morning,” my son was saying over the phone about our four-year-old granddaughter. “She said she had never heard a child pray like Anne-Marie!”

“Really?” I chuckled, though not surprised. I had heard of her elaborate prayers since she was a three-year-old. The little blonde angel takes praying seriously, even if she does have surprising requests sometimes, such as asking God to send Easter candy raining down from heaven. “Does the teacher ask her to pray?” I wondered.

“No, she volunteers! She leads the class in prayer!” he said in a bemused, if daddy-proud, voice.

Well, I thought, she’s like her mommy. Our daughter-in-law is an intercessor at their church and is a fervent, effective prayer warrior. As it says in James 5:16, “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much,” and I’m sure that applies to women, too. I have no doubt our granddaughter will be one of the new generation of young people God is using and will use to bring people to Christ in these last days.

More and more I hear of children with remarkable gifts and testimonies in their young lives that awe us and even put adults to shame. Some are precocious and talented artists, painting pictures of Christ with breathtaking reality, having amazing effects on people. Others are singers, their pure, sweet voices seemingly sent from heaven above. The book, Heaven is for Real, by a young boy who experienced heaven in a near-death episode in surgery, is touching people across the world.

Psalms 8:2 tells us, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.” In Matthew 21:16, Jesus responded to those who criticized the children’s praise, saying, “ Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou has perfected praise?”

We can either stand and watch in amazement as the younger generation outstrips us in our efforts of evangelism, or we can join them in their zeal for the harvest, adding the strength, support and wisdom of their elders as we all work together to “still the enemy and the avenger”. This is a victory in which we can all share.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Seedtime and Harvest

Last night my husband closed his sermon with a story that I’d heard many times before, but I was just as moved as the rest of the congregation by his fervent, gripping manner of speaking. I was nervous at first, since he had already preached a long time, while I willed him to condense his narrative and stop digressing into stories within a story. Nevertheless, he was determined to give every dramatic detail of the true experience of two young missionaries many years ago.

They had gone as na├»ve Christian workers from Stockholm, Sweden, to a remote area in the wilds of Africa. Another couple went with them, but when they had hacked their way through the undergrowth to arrive at a settlement, they were rebuffed by the natives. Again they hacked through the treacherous terrain, erected flimsy shelters, and attempted to reach the people with the gospel. After 6 months of exhausting and seemingly futile efforts, the second couple despaired and went back to the mission station to return home. The first couple would have gone back with them, but by this time the wife was 6 months pregnant and couldn’t travel.

Day after day, they struggled. They had learned Swahili and tried to win the people over, but their efforts were met with disinterest and hostility. All except for one young boy who came to their hut every week to sell them fresh fruit or an occasional live chicken. The young missionary wife befriended him and told him stories from the Bible. Though somewhat interested, he did not accept the Lord.

Before long, a baby girl was born in these discouraging circumstances, joining a two-year-old brother. A few weeks later, the mother became seriously ill. A searing infection reached its peak and left the husband a widower with a crying newborn in his arms and a toddler hanging on to his trouser legs. Standing over the grave of his beloved wife and destroyed by grief, the missionary declared he was through. He gave the little girl to the missionaries at the mission station, took the small child, and returned to Sweden.

Years passed, and the baby, who was adopted by another missionary couple, grew up and was sent to the U.S. for college. She married a man who would become prominent in the national leadership of their denomination. Many years later, the opportunity arose to go to a church conference overseas. The keynote speaker and organizer of the event attended by thousands was a striking black man with a commanding presence, the president of his denomination. As he spoke, he mentioned living in the area where the baby girl was born. She later talked to him and asked if he remembered the young missionaries she described, giving their names. “Why yes,” he said, “I used to sell them chickens and fruit. The missionary’s wife told me Bible stories. I heard her husband left when she died after their baby girl was born.”

“I am that little girl,” she replied. She subsequently located her father and convinced him that their labor had not been in vain. One small boy reached with the gospel had resulted in uncounted thousands for the Lord. The father, who had lived a life of bitterness and rebellion, found a place of repentance and forgiveness and was able to return once again to see his beloved Africa, this time seen through tears, not of defiance, but of gratefulness to God.

The rapt silence in the sanctuary was broken by a single slow, deliberate clapping behind me, which, as others joined in, became a steady applause from the congregation.