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


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


"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


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!