Friday, December 30, 2011

Suiting up...

     I think I'm fairly upbeat. By that I don't mean that I can't get down, that I don't complain or get ticked. All of those things are true about me. But it usually doesn't take long before I'm trying to see things from a spiritual point of view,  looking for the Romans 8:28 side of things, searching for God's hand in whatever situation I find myself in.  So while I'm not likely to ever be found singing, "The sun'll come out tomorrow... tomorrow.." like Little Orphan Annie, I pretty much believe that the Son will come out if not now, then soon, and show Himself in the midst of our situation, whatever it may be.
      It seems right now, however, that since I've determined that I'll see each person I meet as someone Christ died for, most of the people I've met casually over the past few days maybe don't have horns on their heads... but... you could have fooled me! (And I daresay they have thought the same thing about me probably!)  So why, now that I'm determined to meet everyone with a sort of kiss of grace to shine upon their face, do the ones I encounter seem mostly like toads?  (And I've already got my prince, I'm not looking for another...)
    But that's not all.  I started my list of a thousand things to be grateful for about a week ago, was going strong and then somewhere around a hundred I just... bottomed out.  Not only lost any and all sense of gratitude but it's almost like I've been studying for the last two days to become a stand-in, not just for Grumpy, but for the plum roll of the Wicked Queen  from Snow White.
   Why is that?
My idea of spiritual warfare..:)
    Why do we determine to do something that we know is good and then it seems like everything conspires against it, including our own desires?  I read today that as believers, we are living, standing, loving, breathing - in the middle of a battlefield. A titanic conflict between good and evil.  A war that we can't see but is none the less real.  And if, when things are good, we forget that, we will sooner or later be blindsided.
   And that, I think, is pretty much where I've been the past couple of days...blindsided. Expecting that since I have these two goals, it will be, um, easy to keep them???

   Hmmmm...
   Now I think it's time to get real.
   Not give up on showing the love of Christ to others or on my desire to keep track of the things for which I'm thankful.
   But at the same time, realizing  there is something in the universe that doesn't like a grace approach to everyday encounters and ditto for thankful hearts.  At 57, I'm still learnin', obviously:    it's not enough to set a goal; you've got to suit up for the game as well. :)

Phil and DAvid's idea of spiritual warfare...
Either way, I'm sure you get the picture...:)
 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

You never know...

     One thing about the holidays is that it seems to bring every type of person - except perhaps the most dedicated recluse - out onto the highways and byways of life.  The young, the middle-aged, the elderly, the sane, the nice, the weird, the rude - I guess everyone turns out during the last two weeks of December, stocking up on presents, returning presents, stocking up on food for New Year's Eve - surely this is the time when you can find every human version of the 7 dwarfs (plus the Wicked Stepmother, the handsome prince and Snow White) running in and out of stores.
    Since our son is now working at a retail store, it's been interesting to hear his stories.  Most of the customers have been nice but there have a been a few who have gone off over nothing, proving to be an equal-opportunity chewer-outer by yelling at every employee within earshot even though no employee actually did anything to offend them.  A few people, not many thankfully, walk into stores at the last minute (i.e., Christmas Eve) and look for someone to dump their frustrations on.
   And then the weird ones - again not many - just do.. weird things.  Like today, a kid came running up while our son was checking out customers, saying his parents had gone off and left him behind. Our son loaned the kid his cell phone while he continued to check out customers.  And as he rang up products, etc., the customers tried to keep a straight face while the kid was yelling into the phone, "I was just in the bathroom!  Why did you drive off and leave me??"  My guess... the parents had told the kid to hurry it up and he didn't so they drove off temporarily to teach him a lesson.. At least I hope that's the case... At any rate, you have to smile...
    Right before Christmas, I went into Mardels and Life way Book Stores, my sort of home-away-from-home stores.  (I go to both places waaaayyyyy too much as evidenced by the fact that they all know me by name in those places..)   At one of the stores, I was chatting with a college-age sales clerk and I mentioned that our son also works as a sales clerk and that sometimes he has to work with difficult people, especially as the Christmas rush was hitting full stride.  Then I added, I would imagine the customers are easier to deal with here because you cater to Christians.   A pained look came across his face that clearly said, "Touchy Subject!!"  He hesitated a minute and then said, "Ummmmmm.... Don't think I need to go there."
    I responded with, "Well, I'm sure some customers at any store can be difficult but at a Christian bookstore, you would think people would be a bit nicer."
   He said, "Ummmmmm.... Yes.... you would think that. And,  for the most part, they are."  Then he added, "Really, most customers are nice here, especially in the mornings.  But right now, by the time the afternoons get here...."  He didn't finish his sentence; he didn't have to. The implication was clear.
   Now I'd like to transition.
    Years ago I had a person from another faith who kept asking me about Christ and who even asked to go to church with us - which he did.  I didn't know where his interest came from although we were certainly glad to have him talk to us and worship with us.  Finally he said that when he first got to the States, he worked in a dough-nut shop.  And he noticed that the customers who came in on Sunday morning were different from those who came in Monday through Saturday.  He asked his employer why the Sunday morning people were different, nicer and his boss, who was not a Christian, said, "Those people are Christians on their way to church.  People who go to church are just more polite, easier to deal with.  Not as impatient.  Happier."
   First, my friend noticed a difference over time in one set of customers as opposed to the others.
   Then he set out to discover why these particular people were different.
   Then he wanted to know about Christ and  church.
   This year my goal is to remember where I am, whoever I'm dealing with, as I shop, pay taxes, sit in the doctor's office, whatever - my goal is to remember that each person I encounter is someone Christ died for.  And that each person, whether they are nice, not-so-nice, or just a little strange, is someone who may A) need a smile and B) may wonder why I'm smiling while others aren't (as in the revenue office when getting tags, etc). And that small commitment on my part, may lead someone to wonder about the God I profess to serve.
   That's my goal for 2012.
    If you think about it, pray that I'll be able to keep it!
   

Monday, December 26, 2011

Nothing is impossible...


 
 I've never been a person who was "on top" of things.  I've never looked like I was a potential candidate for a modeling agency or a possible stand-in for someone in high office.  I'm the type of person who inadvertently "wears" their lunch on their clothes (hence, no light-colored dresses, tops, or jackets), sits in church with the label sticking out of the back of their dress, and often can be seen with the proverbial foot sticking out of my mouth.
    As a result, I tend to see others as perfect (or at least more perfect than I am) and am easily intimidated.  This morning I was reading in the Jesus Calling Devotional Bible edited by Sarah Young and I came across a devotional about weaknesses (p. 1685).    The devotional is drawn from these Bible passages:  II Corinthians 12:9;  Jeremiah 9:23, 24; Psalm 34:2; and I Peter 2:9.  Of these, I am most familiar with the II Corinthians 12 passage, verses 9-10.
    And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
   I've lived through almost six decades so it's not surprising that I've encountered plenty of opportunities to experience weakness, i.e., inadequacy,  in some although not all of the situations listed above.  Certainly, whatever I've experienced would be nothing compared to what other believers endure in countries where Christians are persecuted. 
  Nonetheless, I have failed test after test.  At one point in my life, after repeatedly failing to show love to someone who was a thorn in my flesh (if you haven't encountered anyone like that, it's because you haven't lived very long...), I was trying to pray but not making much headway due to discouragement and feelings of "poor, pitiful me" - that type of thing.  When suddenly God got my attention. 
  I won't go into the details but I will say that within a few minutes I went from feeling sorry for myself to an acute awareness of my own sinfulness.  At that point, I began to confess every sin I was aware of committing - and it was pretty good list!  Then I began to praise God for all I was worth!
  After about 30 minutes of this 180 degree turnaround in my prayers, a verse began to scroll through my mind.  That's the only way I can describe it.  It was not a verse I ever remembered memorizing and to this day, I still can't say it from memory. But at that time, as near as I could tell (and I looked it up immediately after my prayer time), the first sentence of that verse went through my mind in slow motion with total accuracy.  It was II Corinthians 12:10.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.
   As I lay there alone in my room, I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that God was convicting me - I had not been willing to endure weaknesses and insults for the sake of His Son.  I "got that".  I understood that He was correcting me.
  What I couldn't quite grasp - and even today cannot fully explain - was the fact that while I was being corrected, I felt totally wrapped in acceptance.  In fact, I felt an acceptance and a love at that point like I've never felt before and haven't felt sense. 
  Later, as I thought about it, I kept telling myself, "That's not how it works...  It's like a law of the universe that when you are being chastised, you feel crummy... lacking...rejected.    So how could I feel totally, completely accepted and loved while my Heavenly Abba was pointing out sin in my life?"
  To this day, I can't quite reconcile what I knew with what I felt; I just know that it happened.
  After this experience, things changed. I didn't change. But God's power was available in my situation in a way that it hadn't been before, ala II Cor. 12:9  "..for My strength is made perfect in weakness."   I acknowledged my weakness, accepted His correction, basked in His love, and experienced His strength. Weird, I know. But I think that's how it works in God's economy.
   This morning, in the Sarah Young devotional that I read, she recommended for us weak, whiny people (as opposed to the proud, got-it-all-together people) that instead of getting bogged down in our failures, we look for God's power to shine through our weaknesses. And instead of complaining about our inadequacies (or the situations that highlight our inadequacies), that we brag about our Heavenly Abba in the same way that small children love to brag about their dads.
   It's a thought and something that I'm going to try to hang onto as I go into the new year.
   As the Bible says, for with our Abba nothing is impossible. (Loose paraphrase!)  
   





Sunday, December 25, 2011

Someday....










    I just came from an 11 P.M. candlelight service at a Methodist church near our home. It's been several years since I've seen them put a sign out for the late candlelight service and I'm really grateful they did it again this year. I'm sure it's not easy to put on a service so late at night, especially since they do a 6 P.M. service as well.
    I can't explain it - there is just something so right about sitting in church on Christmas Eve as the clock nears midnight and the world (or at least our part of it:) transitions  from Christmas Eve to Christmas morn.  I love it.  The candles, the flowers, the music, the emphasis on God reaching down to man through the gift of His Son.
   I was particularly grateful that I could kneel to receive communion.  My knees don't cooperate with me as well as I would like right now:) and at first I wasn't going to participate because of that. But as I thought about it and prayed about it, I realized I could fold my sweater and kneel on that, using it as a cushion.  when I saw a woman going forward with a cane, it was a no-brainer - I was going forward!
   Kneeling is not a part of our tradition in the churches I've attended and it just seemed so important to do that tonight as the pastor broke the bread and then handed each of us a piece, along with his blessing.  After we returned to our seats, we sang Silent Night as we lit our candles from the usher's main candle and then we filed out of the sanctuary.
    I tried so hard to seal the images in my mind - the candles and flowers in each window. The cluster of tapered candles at the front of the church.  The Poinsettias mingled in with the candles.  The lighted wreath at the back of the church.  The beautiful rendition of Oh, Holy Night. Even the small candles in white bags lining the sidewalk... It was all beautiful.
   I wanted to hang onto all of it.  But I couldn't.
   However, some day I will!


Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Long Awaited..

     "To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death..."  Luke 1:78-79
      
       This is the human condition, i.e., what is wrong with us, with our world.  We sit (live, walk, sleep, fight, love and whistle...) in the dark. While death's shadow falls across all our days.

       This is why Christ -the Dayspring, the Morning Star, the One who rises with healing in His wings - this is why He came.  He didn't bring light; He brought  Himself  -He is the light.  Wherever the floodlight of His presence shines, shadows disintegrate.  Wherever He walks, He brings peace and as Luke 1:79 promises, for those who follow after Him, He guides their steps into peace. Not the type of peace that the world knows; a world that is littered with broken promises, broken marriages, broken hearts, broken treaties.  Not that type of peace.  But the real thing.  A peace that, when we snuggle close to Him in faith, transcends our circumstances, our worries, our losses and our fears.

       Someone once shared their story with me,  a person who came from another country, another faith, another language.  Gradually, this person became convinced that God was speaking to him, drawing him, telling him that Jesus was His Son, that Jesus died for him, that Jesus loved him.
     But he was afraid to believe in the light; yet afraid to keep living in the shadow of death, in the dark.
     A real dilemma.
     On the way to church, a friend asked him, "What would it take for you to believe in Jesus?"
     A scary question, one with profound ramifications.
     To put off the issue, he pulled an impossible condition out of the air, so to speak.  He replied, "I would have to see God before I would believe."
     His friend swallowed hard and then said, "Well, we will pray that you see God." And then his friend did just that.
     They went on to church where the bread and the juice were passed around in remembrance of Him.  A time of holy communion in more ways than one, because  as the man sat there trying to back away from belief, he suddenly saw a bright light, brighter than the sun, at the front of the sanctuary.  The light was dazzling in its brilliance yet  it didn't hurt him; a light that  should have seared his retinas but ... didn't.
     He blinked, tried to focus his eyes, searched for a simple explanation and came up with the fact that  his eyesight must be  glitching.   So he turned to the person next to him for confirmation and reassurance.  "Can you tell me what that light is, where it is coming from?"  To his shock, the other person responded with, "What light?"
   He started to point to the front of the room but this time when he looked, there was no light...
   At that time, he had no idea that Jesus had called Himself the light of the world or that Jesus had promised to dispel all darkness for anyone who followed after HIm.   All he knew, down to the bottom of his soul, was that someone had prayed that he would see God... and he had.
   He believed and found the peace that Jesus promised.
   This is what's right with our world...
   This is what Christmas is about....
   As Tanner would put it, have you loved your Savior today?

   "Who gave himself a ransom in the place of every person, a testimony that has come in its time.." I Timothy 2:6

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas memories #23

    I don't know how long you have to wait before something can be considered a bona fide "memory" but I'm going to take a chance and call today's events a Christmas memory:)  After several hectic days of shopping, I had a real essence-of-Christmas day, at least in my opinion!
    It didn't start out that promising. I woke up early, heard cars slushing down the street past our window, looked out and saw a steady rain coming down.  Perfect time to go back to sleep!  But I couldn't because...I, um, procrastinated yesterday and didn't make it to the grocery store.  I thought about how the traffic would only become exponentially worse as the day went on and shoppers turned out in full force and that thought was enough to galvanize me into getting out of bed and heading to Wal Mart by 8 a.m.  It turned out well - apparently the early hour and the rain kept the hordes away and I only had one other customer in front of me as I stood in line to check out.  Three days before Christmas, that's pretty awesome!  (Plus, it was kind of neat to walk in and see the WAl Mart greeter standing at the door with fake antlers on her head as well as a fake red nose that truly did glow..I had to laugh!)

    After I got home and we put the groceries  away, I couldn't find the pecans for the Waldorf salad.  I hunted and hunted until it suddenly hit me .. the only place left was the fridge!  I'm sorry.. I couldn't resist - had to take a picture of it!

  Then  some long term friends of ours - a couple who have truly been there for us through thick and thin - dropped by to bring us homemade chicken pot pie and cake.  She's a great cook but mostly I just appreciated the time, effort and thought that went into baking all that for us.  We really love them and hope they know it!
   About noon, almost  an hour before David had to be at work, he came out dressed in casual clothes - not work clothes - with  car keys in hand.  He said that three neighborhood boys had asked him to take them to the Dollar General store to buy spray paint.  They frequently ask him to take them places and he always does, one of the things I appreciate about our son.  However, I didn't want David to be running late for work so I told him I'd do it.
   The boys range in age from 9 to 15 and they are all super polite, really good kids.  They had already walked to the store earlier today to buy the spray paint but apparently you have to be 18 to make a purchase like that.  The two younger ones wanted to spray paint their bikes (the ones Phil is frequently having to fix or air up) a blend of colors:  blue, black, red, and green!  The oldest one, who is very responsible, was going to supervise, i.e. try to keep them from accidentally painting themselves, the house, the yard, their mom's car, etc.
  So we all piled into my car and I drove them the three blocks to the Dollar Store to get their paint.   As we were pulling out of our neighborhood, we saw David driving ahead of us and the 15-year-old said, "Mom!  There goes my brother to work!"
  :)  Okay.  I am very white.  The boys are...not:)  So we go to the store and I have these three kids running around the store - all from different families so none of them look like siblings - helping me find tea candles for my candle holders, showing me which spray paint cans to get, and telling me about their day.  The nine year-old told me (very earnestly) that the new police lady who just moved onto our street has, wonder of wonders,  a dog.  And although he tried to help her get a dog food sack out of her trunk, he said he pulled on it but it just wouldn't budge.  I asked him what type of dog she had and he said he wasn't sure - it was either a   Canine or a German Shepherd.
   He also told me that he got a new tooth.  We talked about what a bummer it is that the Tooth Fairy doesn't pay out for new teeth, only old teeth that have fallen out!  At this point, the 11 year-old said that when one of his teeth fell out, he forgot to tell his mom, put it under his pillow that night, and got... nothing.  The next day he told his mom about his tooth and voila!  The Tooth Fairy came that same evening... We talked about how that was a dead tip off that the Tooth Fairy only exists in the Santa Clause movies.
   When we got to the counter to check out, I had three kids dancing  around me, calling me Mom.  The clerk wasn't sure what to make of it (and I certainly never asked her what she thought:) but I loved it!  After we left the store, we went to Sonic to celebrate Christmas - they didn't ask, I just offered.  Our orders varied:  cranberry vanilla slush for me, cherry limeade with extra cherry syrup for the 15 year-old, strawberry slush for the 11 year-old, and (my favorite:) Blue Coconut and Green Sour Apple Slush, which  had to be ordered precisely that way to satisfy the nine-year-old!  I have to admit: it was impressive!  We were all taken with the color scheme - everyone had to comment on it ... Now, I'm afraid I'll have to go order one for myself tomorrow just to satisfy my curiosity as to what it tastes like...
       After I dropped the boys off ,   I went for a walk to deliver a last minute Christmas gift to a neighbor, visit with another - something I really enjoy doing.  On the way back, the boys had their bikes out, newly painted and I must say, Picasso would be proud!!!  Walking down the street, interacting with the neighbors, exchanging gifts - all this makes me feel like I'm in a Currier and Ives Christmas card  even though I don't think their pictures were set in the 'hood... :)
   To round the day off,  this evening I went to Willow Springs Park to watch It's a Wonderful LIfe, something that's become a tradition.  As always, they had their home and the grounds of the park beautifully decorated and Lou Ann had fixed some neat Christmas treats.   It is one of the highlights of the season for me and although I missed having other family members with me this time around, I still enjoyed it.  Great movie, sweet people, beautiful lights.  And also a stillness as I was leaving - definitely different being in a semi-rural area as opposed to being in the city. I loved the quiet.
  A beautiful silent night to end a spontaneous Christmas day.
 Christmas distilled; tucked away in my mind.
 God is so good...
 

Christmas Memories # 22


 Sometimes I feel like I'm banging my head against a wall, spitting in the wind, running as fast as my arthritic knees will allow... without getting anywhere, and perhaps worst of all, about to run out of cliches and analogies.  As Christmas nears, it does this to me.
  December comes in on  a wave of  beautiful music,  delightful store displays, myriads of lighted trees, and once-in-a-year  events to be penciled in on the last page of the calendar.  It's going to be the best Christmas ever!  A promise I always make to myself .   But more  events show up, demanding to be penciled in; the to-do list keeps getting longer;  the traffic keeps getting more congested and then,when  the big day is almost here, I wind up  cooking.  Not much but quantity doesn't really matter because I basically hate cooking.
   And dishes - dirty dishes pile up and around here, there is no automatic dish washer.  We're it.  Which means much of the time, I'm it. And so, even  with the Christmas tree lights shining, presents under the tree, and Andy Williams singing, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year", I still have been known to throw a fit or two over a sink full of dirty dishes, making dark sotto voice comments about how I'm sure I just washed all the dishes not thirty minutes earlier and wondering how it is that I'm the only one who knows how to stack said dishes on the counter top in this family instead of dumping them all in the sink??
   I don't know how my grandmother and my great aunt did it.  When I was a child, these women clumped across wooden floors (covered at regular intervals by rugs) in these heavy black shoes with thick hose; starched (i.e., uncomfortable) dresses; fussy,  over-sized aprons; and managed to produce a feast.  Pots, pans and bowls everywhere.  Mashed potatoes, turkey and dressing, ham, green beans (canned variety - not store bought), corn, cakes and pies galore.  Their tables were always heavily laden at Christmas time (and at other times as well), dishes were always cleaned quickly and set to dry on a "draining board", and I don't remember hearing any complaints or heavy sighs over these chores.  (I do remember that my Great Aunt Jewel had a China "plate" hanging on the wall - a decoration that had the words to a kitchen prayer imprinted on the white background in black letters.  Lord of pots and pans and things... And she seemed to embody the words of that prayer).
   At this point, I'd like to transition a bit, if I can.
   About 10 years ago, we were at a Christmas Eve service at our church and as part of the program, the pastor asked for volunteers to share about their favorite Christmas.  Quite a few people did and it was interesting to hear what made Christmas special for them.  As we were driving home, an international who was with us said that she would have liked to have shared about her favorite Christmas.  Only she was afraid that people wouldn't understand her English.
   I asked her what her favorite Christmas memory was and she told me. One December her family was really broke.    In her country, Christmas meant a church service on Christmas Eve plus a huge  meal on Christmas day.  But at that time, her family was down to the simplest of fare.  Tea but no sugar. Bread but no butter, etc.  So on Christmas day, she didn't even want to get out of bed because she knew there would be no feast of any kind. In fact, she said that for days she had been dreading the rather bleak Christmas meal that lay ahead.
  However, when she opened her eyes in their one-room apartment on Christmas morning, to her amazement she saw a table covered with food.  Not only the staples of a Christmas meal but even delicacies that she couldn't imagine ever seeing.  She was stunned and that wonderful bounty, that un-looked for smogasboard of plenty, made that Christmas the best that she could remember.
   As I think about my grandmother and great aunt who turned out tons of food routinely without microwaves, crock pots, Sarah Lee frozen pies, and other labor-saving devices, I'm pretty sure I can cook the few dishes I have to make as part of my contribution to family get-togethers. (As I've indicated, I don't provide the meal - I just show up with a covered dish or two.  And that, frankly, is a great blessing! I still remember the days when people gathered here and I infinitely prefer not cooking the whole meal!) At any rate, I think I can handle a salad, some deviled eggs and a dessert or two without losing my sang froid.
   And when I think of how others celebrate Christmas, sometimes saving forever and doing without in order to have a special meal on Christmas day (no presents -just food!), I think I can go further than just cooking and cleaning with a bit of grace. I think I can actually get on my knees (arthritic though they may be) and give thanks for what I have...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Memories # 21

     I'm finally done with all the shopping for this year - just have to make one trip (hopefully!) to the grocery store and then I can hibernate indoors while the mad scramble to get last minute presents continues right up until Dec. 24th at 11 PM or so as most stores extend their hours to accommodate procrastinators.. like, ummm, me...
Every year I tell myself I'm finished at least three days before Christmas only to find out that... I'm not. So we'll see how it goes this year.
   I don't know how it is with anyone else but sometimes I get all knotted up at this time of the year, wondering if I got the right thing for So-and-So and did I spend as much on this person as I did on that person, etc. And then there's the nagging little question in the back of my mind:  did I forget anyone? (Usually the answer is "yes"; hence the last minute trek on Christmas Eve).   And then there's the wrapping to do.. Really don't envy Santa and the Elves at the N. Pole..
   Somehow, I don't think Christmas is meant to be this way.  As I think back over Christmases past, these are some cameo "shots" that filter through my mind:
  As children, my friends and I deciding we would re-enact the Nativity story for our parents.  Didn't happen because we got in a fight over who would get to play the part of Mary...
  As a teen-ager, I remember that  a relative of my mom's passed away on Christmas Day. He was elderly and had been  a bit of a prima dona all his life, someone who had been successful in some ways  but unfaithful to his wife (who was pretty much a saint), that type of thing.   I remember listening to the adults discuss the man's passing (out of earshot of his wife and kids) and I heard one person say, "That's just like so-and-so to turn up his toes on Christmas day!  He allus did have to be the center of attention..." I was shocked but when I passed that along to my mom, she just looked thoughtful and said, "Well, there's  definitely some truth in that..."  :)
  As a young adult,  I remember my mom and I  spending Christmas Eve with my sister, her husband and their young son.  It was lightly snowing and my brother-in-law had gone outside to get a bicycle kit to put together.  My sister, my Mom and I were having a good time chatting when we heard a knock on the back door. My sister opened it only to hear her husband hiss, "Hurry up and get the kid into bed!  It's freezing out here and I can't bring this box in while he's awake! I've been standing out here forever!"  All three of us went  into high gear, running into Danny's room yelling, "We just saw Santa!  Hurry up and get in bed!"  Danny hopped into bed at the speed of lightening and when I went back in his room a little bit later, he looked so serious, as only a sweet little kid can. In fact, his big eyes filled up with tears   as he pleaded, "Can you wait up for Santa and tell him I'm asleep... He'll believe you!!"  I assured him that I could.
  Still as a young adult, I remember seeing my four-year-old niece, Susan,  perform in a Christmas play. She was an angel, dressed in satin, and she certainly looked the part!  What a beautiful little face!  But in the middle of the play, she suddenly turned to the boy next to her, shook her finger right in his face and we could see that little mouth moving as she apparently told him how the cow ate the cabbage.  In response, he just plopped right down on the floor and stayed as still as a mouse throughout the rest of the program.  Apparently he had been bothering her and she'd had enough!
  Still in my twenties, I remember when my niece, Laura, was born in Nov. - almost a Christmas baby. At one point, the doctor couldn't detect signs of life when Laura was in the womb and so for a few weeks, we were afraid she wasn't going to make it.  But she did. She was born into a time of great turmoil. Her mother was mentally ill and her father was trying to hold the family together as best he could. What I remember about that first Christmas is that Laura was probably the best baby I've ever seen. She continued to be sweet-natured and calm through out her first year and I felt like God gifted her that way because my poor brother-in-law couldn't have handled it had she been sick or colicky.
  When I was 32, Phil and I married in Nov.  Right after Thanksgiving I put up our first tree.  Later, when  my sister-in-law dropped in for a visit, she looked at the brightly lit tree and said, "You can definitely tell Phil is married!"  It turned out that  he'd never put up a tree.  The closest he ever came to doing Christmas decorations was when he and a friend tried to see if they could make the silhouette of a man out of lights - as a joke.  Poor Phil! Times were definitely changing for him...
  And then the Dec. that my mom died, exactly ten days after I got the call from the nurse saying mom was going, I got an early morning call - the exact same time as the week and a half before - telling me that my sister-in-law was in labor and her husband was taking her to the hospital. Both calls came at 5:30 in the morning. A piece of trivia perhaps, but it meant a lot to me (and still does) because somehow it seemed promising to have news of impending death eclipsed by the joyous news of impending birth.
   Another scene flashes across my mind.  When our Russian daughter lived here and we made cookies for the neighbors.  As we took them around the neighborhood, she linked her arm in mine and said, "Let's sing!"  So we started singing carols as we walked from house to house. Before our last stop, we went back to the house to get, not cookies, but a bowl of homemade soup because the last person on our list was diabetic.  As we approached his house, singing, he opened the door and said he had been napping and waking up to the sound of carols made him think angels were at his door!  :)
  As I think back over these memories, I really can't recall many gifts at all that I received - almost none - even though I know I was inundated with stuff when I was growing up and I've never been lacking for presents as an adult.  The things I would love to have now are not... things.  I would love to be able to go back and re-visit past Christmases - partly to check my memory, partly to see by-gone celebrations through adult eyes now.  Did my mom stress over getting the right present for everyone?  Did she worry about whether or not she spent the same amount on each person?
  But most of all, I'd like to go back to see the people that I once knew and probably took for granted.  People I can't see any more but will someday.
  When I get stressed over finding and wrapping the "perfect present", it helps me to stop and remember that in the long run, it really won't matter. At all.  What will matter is who I had the privilege of sharing Christmas with. And I hope that I have the wisdom to keep that in mind as I go through the coming days.
 
 

Christmas Memories # 20

   
     A few years back, our extended family was going through a crisis of sorts. The weather that Christmas break was unseasonably pleasant, with moderate temperatures, sunny skies, and an occasional  slight breeze.  For Christmas that year, I asked Phil and David if I could have the present of an hour just to myself on Christmas day.  I wanted to go to the Oasis, a nearby Christian retreat area  that had hiking trails, a pond, and some prayer decks  because I really felt the need to get my spiritual act together - turmoil and I don't do well together.  Looking back, I'm sure that as uptight as I was that holiday, Phil and David were only too  happy to give me some time alone and  as I recall they both told me not to hurry but  to take all the time I wanted. :)
    I still remember going to the Oasis on Christmas day, following the trail to my favorite prayer deck and then  just sitting there, reading and praying until I was calm and had a deep inner joy - a real awareness of the fact that we weren't going it alone.  Later that evening, we got more bad news - a friend was in harm's way but there was no clear-cut way to help that person. It was like watching a train derailment from afar.
   As we considered our options, I ended up going back to the Oasis for the next three mornings, this time in even greater turmoil  than  before - basically a basket case of nerves.    It still amazes me how quickly things had changed for us in just 24 hours, and on Christmas, no less.  In my journal Christmas afternoon, I had written down that  I felt like I could almost touch God and feel His arms of love around me.  The very next morning, there I was back on my favorite prayer deck but this time lying flat out on the wooden slats, crying out to God in what could only be described as angst.
  For  three mornings,  I begged God for wisdom, for help, and for Him to intervene in my friend's situation.  At the end of that first agonizing prayer time, I felt that He was telling me to trust Him,  that He would take care of it.  I left with a measure of peace but before the day was over, I found myself thinking, "But what if that assurance is not really from Him? What if I just think that is what He's telling me because that is what I want to hear?"  At the time, I felt my friend's life could very well end up hanging in the balance and I was afraid that if I did nothing, that might tip the scales in the wrong direction.
   So I went back the next day, again full of anxiety, again begging God to do something.  At the end of that prayer time, He left me with the same message and Scripture to confirm it - that I was to trust Him; He would take care of it.
  By the end of that day, however, I was once more second-guessing what I thought He had impressed upon me and the next morning I set out once again with  some anxiety.  I  hiked the trails until I came to my "place" where I  lay flat out on the wooden platform, crying out to God to help my friend and to make His will clear, reminding Him what was at stake (as if He didn't know!)
  For the third time, He impressed on my heart that I was to trust Him and He would take care of the situation.  For the third time He gave me Scripture to confirm this and for the third time, He gave me peace. Only this time, there was a finality about the peace, a sense  of Him saying,  "We're done chasing this rabbit; I've told you that I will take care of it and I will.  Now get up from here, go forward in faith and  trust My word."
    Never again, in the ensuing months of this crisis,  did I ever  have that crushing sense of anxiety. He had taken it from me.  And  although it would be six more months before we could see how the Lord kept His word, the bottom line is that He did keep it and the danger to my friend was eventually removed.
  About the time I started out on that faith journey, our preacher shared something from Charles Spurgeon's writings; basically that God's promises should be treated like personal checks.     Spurgeon was saying that if we have a definite promise from God (and we're absolutely sure it's meant for us), then  we should take it to God each day, expecting Him to cash it.  Our pastor said that too many times, we take God's promises to Heaven's "bank", lay the "personal" check down on the bank teller's window, so to speak,  and then grab it right back - something we would never do with a real check  here on earth.  By doing that, the Christian is  saying, "God, here is the promise You gave me. I'm laying it before You and asking You to cash it today if this is the right day." And then, before  more than a few seconds have gone by, our tune has changed to "Okay, God. Time's up. I knew You weren't going to make good on this promise. But that's okay. It's all good..." And we quit living by faith.
  For several months, our family presented the "check"  God had given us to Heaven's Bank each morning, expecting that if this was the right day, He would cash it. Later, we found out that He had taken care of the situation in a way we could never have envisioned and so we learned that He keeps His promises today  just as He has throughout the centuries.
  The biggest promise He has ever  kept was 2,000 years in the coming. In Genesis 3, God says that He will send the seed of a woman to crush Satan's head.  Later the prophets would be more specific and foretell the coming of the Messiah who would save man from his sins.
   And that is the promise kept that we celebrate at Christmas time. And that is the hope that we sing about in churches all around the world more than 2,000 years after the birth of Christ:  that God has not forgotten us and He keeps His promises, large and small.

* Note: at the time of this event,  the Oasis Retreat was open to religious organizations and/or individuals who just wanted to get away for a bit, pretty much open to the public.   For the past several years, it has been closed to the public and is privately owned. I still miss going out there but am glad it was once available for picnics, hiking,  and such.  Lots of good memories.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Memories # 19

  Continuing with lessons ornaments have taught me:)
Lesson # 2.  Patience...  One year I bought a craft kit for about $2.00.  I was in my twenties at the time, working full time but unmarried.  The  kit had plastic suncatchers in the form of Peanuts characters and I decided that since I didn't have a lot of money, these would make perfect (token) Christmas gifts to my friends and acquaintances. It was a paint-by-number craft so all I had to do was follow the directions and - voila! Cheap gifts enhanced by love.   It didn't turn out to be as simple as that and it took me two or three tries before I figured out how to get the paint to stick where I wanted it and how long to let them dry before picking them up...:(   Then, as I worked on them, somehow my list of people who might like one kept growing; well,  I didn't want to leave anyone out!  Sooo.. I kept going back and  buying more  kits, bringing them home  and then sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the t.v., watching Christmas shows while I  painstakingly painting those suncatchers.  Finally,  I had  a whopping 40 of them!  (I think my mom was worried that maybe I had become addicted to the paint or something... )  When I first started out, doing one set seemed daunting to me.  But over time, like the snail (and with the help of Christmas movie re-runs) I made it through a lot more of those than I could ever have dreamed. And I really enjoyed doing it.

        At another Christmas around the same time, I had a wonderful answer to prayer - although it may not have been so wonderful to others... My brother was home on a short furlough for a week or so but I had to work. They were predicting bad weather so I'm afraid I prayed that the roads would be bad enough that the schools would close.  And sure enough, we had an ice storm which caused  Christmas break to start about 3 days earlier than it was supposed to - I got to spend more time with Glen than I expected!  However, there's not much to do when you are iced in. (And this was the year when we could step out onto the yard and see nothing but solid white and occasionally hear a loud cracking noise that seemed to issue from some subterranean icy depth.)   Mom had gotten us some craft kits that she thought were paint by number but they weren't. Instead, they were made up of hundreds and hundreds of little bits of colored crystals that you had to put into metal frames and then melt at low temperature in the oven.  Those little bits of color were about the size of tiny candy sprinkles that go on cakes.  However, if we put even one little piece in the wrong tray, once it was in the oven, that little speck would grow until it was unmistakably noticeable.
      We were doing Disney characters so you could hear us, as we  pulled out the first few pieces,lamenting  the fact that Goofy's face looked like garbage because, unknown to us, one little speck of green had gotten mixed up with the beige colors. WE finally resorted to using tweezers to pick up the colored bits and often ended up in good-natured arguing as one or the other insisted that a speck of color had gone astray as we were dropping them in.  We didn't do the things we had planned on doing that holiday but we actually had a great time and when the ice finally melted, we had made some neat memories.  Memories that involved, like the Peanuts sun-catchers, a lot of time and patience.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Memories # 18

     Over the years I've learned a few lessons from ornaments ;)  Or tried to anyway... =/  These plastic, wooden,  decorations can't speak and yet, a few of them do - at least to me.
    Lesson # 1. Humility...  When Hallmark first started coming out with Barbie ornaments and cartoon ornaments, I sort of stuck my nose up in the air.  Hmmmphh.. They are way too expensive and have nothing to do with the true spirit of Christmas!  A Barbie doll?  Come on!  Get real!  I don't think we're talking Mary and Joseph here!   And then, guess what?  In 1995, they came out with two ornaments that I unashamedly fell in love with and just had to have!  One was Thomas the Tank Engine.  How traditional is that - a plastic blue train with a smiley face on it???  But it was David's favorite toy and so I had to have it on my tree.  The other one was even less Christmassy.  I have to admit I purchased one of Olive Oil holding Sweet Pea in her arms:)  This one had even more sentimental meaning for me.  When I stayed with my grandparents, I didn't like to go to bed, of course.  So after they finally got me into my bed, my grandfather would holler out from his bedroom, "Good-night, Olive Oil!"  And I would yell back, "Good-night, Popeye!" and start giggling.  At that time he knew that I considered Olive Oil the height of glamorous femininity so that was his pet name for me.  He died in April 1960 on my mom's birthday and his last words  to her were, "Take care of my little girl and tell Olive Oil I love her."  You can be sure Thomas the Tank and Olive Oil are on my tree every year even though, yes, they have little or nothing to do with traditional Christmas tree ornaments and yes, they were probably overpriced.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Memories # 17

                                                         
      When I was in junior high we lived out in a rural area and even though book stores were far away, sometimes I could order paperbacks through the school.  One year I ordered The Diary of Anne Frank and had trouble putting it down.  In fact, I stuck it inside my Bible during Wed. night church service  and read it surreptitiously. (Another trick I had was to put a quilt at the bottom of my bedroom door to block out light and then read with a flashlight into the wee hours of the morning. That's how I read George Orwell's Animal Farm and also James Michener's  Sayonara.   The only problem with both books was that as I was finishing each one, I  got busted.  I think it was my uncontrollable sobbing at the end of the books that gave me away.)  At any rate, as  soon as I opened Anne Frank's book and started reading the entries in her diary, I knew I wanted a diary of my own.
     Although it was high on my Christmas list, as the big day  approached  I had the distinct impression that I wasn't going to get one.  The two local stores didn't carry them for sure.  However, on Christmas Eve, at the last minute,  my brother drove to the nearest city  and bought one for me - a five-year diary with a red cover and a key  lock. To me, it was a thing of beauty, something to behold!  Like Anne's diary, this would carry all the secrets of my heart. Throughout Christmas day, I kept the diary by my side and  as for the key, mom put it on a necklace so that I could wear it around my neck.
    I  spent Christmas night at my grandmother's house - by this time she had been a widow for several years and although she waited on me hand-and-foot, she had her peculiarities.  Definitely.
   For one thing, she loved to listen in on the party line  - for those who don't know, that's when several families share the same telephone line which means it's very easy to listen in on other people's conversations.
   And I have to say that Grandma was really, really good at this.  In her defense, I would also have to say that most of her friends did the same.  If they weren't watching the afternoon soap operas such as As the World Turns and Search for Tomorrow, they  were almost certainly eavesdropping on other people's conversations or calling each other up to share the newest piece of juicy gossip.
    Going back to the Christmas when I got my beloved diary, I made the mistake of taking it to my grandmother's house that night where I proceeded to make  my first entry before locking it up.  Then I put the chain around my neck with the key dangling from it, knowing it was securely fastened. When I woke up the next morning, the chain was still fastened around my neck but.. the key was gone!   I was some kind of ticked!!  Of course, I accused my grandmother of taking my key and of course, she denied it. (But we were the only two people in the house that night... soooo...)   When I insisted the chain couldn't have unclasped itself and then fastened itself back, she did what she always did when she was caught red-handed, she became extremely hard of hearing, making any further conversation a moot point.
   I never did get my key back and my dad had to cut the strap so that I could open the diary to write in it.  To this day,  I wonder what my grandmother could have been thinking.  First, if she was going to take the key, it seems to me it would have been a lot better to have left the chain unfastened.  Having it still secured around my neck was sort of a dead tip-off as to what had happened:)
    Second, I had no life...  Seriously...   I was a gangly  twelve-year-old, living out in the middle of nowhere and our nearest neighbor was a sixty-year-old woman who liked to grow flowers. If I went anywhere by myself, I rode my bike or  walked.  I was a wall-flower at school and a bookworm at home. I mean passion was just a word in the dictionary to me back then, if I even knew it at all...  What could she have ever hoped to find in my diary that could possibly rival the local party line or As the World Turns?
     At any rate, it all worked out from my perspective. I simply never took my diary back to my grandmother's house and at home, although I felt like my privacy would be respected, I kept the little volume in a hiding place and managed to get  my full five-years worth of enjoyment out of it.
     I've never seen a Christmas card featuring a grandmother swiping her granddaughter's new diary key on Christmas night.  The truth is, most every family has 'em - people who genuinely love you but who drive you crazy from time to time and even can, on occasion, make you spitting mad.  In the middle of the holly and the ivy, no less.
   And my grandmother really did love me.  She cooked my favorite foods, sewed clothes for me (and my dolls), played games with me, cleaned up after me, and saw me through all the contagious childhood diseases such as chicken pox, measles, and mumps.
   As a friend of mine likes to say, if you think your family doesn't have any hard-to-get along-with characters in it, that's probably because you are the eccentric character in your family that everyone else complains about from time to time:).
   Christmas is a time to enjoy family as much as you can, not the way it's presented in the cards, carols, and stories but the way it really is, giving as much slack as you can when you can.  One thing about eccentric characters:  when they are gone, you really miss them.
   Here's hoping you and your family have a great Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Memories # 16

   

 I'll be writing this on the fly, as we say in the old South, since I have a lot to do today.  Christmas brings such hectic to-do lists but it's not (always:) a bad thing!  The general anticipation of what is coming, the feeling that even as the pace becomes more frantic, we are headed towards something wonderful - a "down" day when normal things suddenly  come to a halt and our priorities are  focused on warmth, fellowship, and fun instead of on work, to-do lists, and ... more work!
    Another Christmas memory came back to me last night and it centered around ... Cookie Monster...   When David was young, we had a furry blue hand puppet that seemed to be his personal confidante.   When David was upset or feeling bad, Phil could put Cookie Monster onto his hand, raise his voice a notch or two, and then magically, Cookie would start talking to David.  Somehow, it always made him feel better. (David.. not Cookie...Ha!)
   We could assure David that he was going to be fine or we could try to make him laugh but.. Cookie Monster could really achieve those objectives!  And if something was bothering David, we could ask him questions but he usually preferred to confide in his furry blue friend:)
  It's amazing how children respond to puppets!  Over the years, our family worked in puppet ministry - especially Phil and David (when he was older...) and whenever the puppet booth was set up at church, little kids would come up to the booth and try to reach up and touch  the puppets bending over it, looking down at them.  (Sometimes Phil would have to  be semi-stern in his high squeaky voice and say, "Boys and girls!  Don't touch!  Owwww... don't pull on my ears or my nose!  That hurts! ;)  They were simply enchanted by these furry animals come alive!
  Because my brother saw that Phil was good with puppets and because he is generous, Glen spent weeks one Christmas season tracking down various puppets of all kinds - he was truly on a mission! He garnered quite a collection -  small ones that fit on the back of the hand like bumble bees and lady bugs (my favorites), then the type of hand puppets that we grew up with - simple ones that covered the hand and the wrist, and then much larger ones, like the ones the church used.  That Christmas, we had a puppet bonanza that none of us have forgotten!  It was just so neat to keep pulling puppets out of their wrappings only to find more were hiding.   For a while, David was the envy of all the kids on the block:)  And we used them!  At church, wherever..
  I even took some of those puppets to school where my "big kids" (teens) would write out skits and then climb under a table and hold the puppets up over the table so that the skits were "read" by great leaders such as  Frederick the Great (who looked suspiciously like a horse) or Queen Elizabeth I  (who looked an awful lot like... a pig..)  Nothing personal intended - we just didn't have  a lot of   people puppets, we mostly just  had animals.
  When I think about Christmas, I am acutely aware that God sent us the best gift that He could possibly have chosen: His Son.  As I've already indicated, He wrapped His Son up in human form (with God, nothing is impossible - how Christ became flesh is a divine mystery, not a biological one) and sent Him to live for us and die for us, to pay for our sins.
  But the gift doesn't really stop there.  Colossians 1:27 says that God's plan is ... Christ in us, the hope of glory.  That's it.  That's His plan.  Christ living through us, using our hands, feet, voices, hearts, minds to reach out to others.
   Going back to the puppet ministry days -of which we were not that good but we had a lot of fun with it - we noticed that the kids loved it when Cookie Monster would interrupt Phil or myself, catch us "off guard" and contradict us!  That  would always send the little ones into peals of laughter.
   But what if those limp, cloth-bodied creatures could suddenly think and speak on their own and they actually did start to contradict us.. and really mean it?  Hang with me here -I know this is evolving into a weird blog....! But what if they wanted Phil and I to empower them, since they were weak, yet at the same time, they wanted to call the shots?
  Christ in us, the hope of glory... Col. 1:27b
  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me..  Phil 4:13
  Christ has become to me wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption  I Cor. 1:30
   In Him, I have been made complete  Col. 2:10
  Today I'm going to go forward by faith, knowing that Christ lives in me, believing that as I count on His wisdom, His goodness and am open to His agenda, I am indeed complete and can do all things through Him.
   What a gift!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Memories # 15

     This Christmas is different from past Christmases.  For one thing, we have exercise equipment everywhere and it's not uncommon to find David or one of his friends lifting weights or even  hanging from a door frame as they do chin-ups, which can be unnerving, by the way, to walk out into our short hallway and see a pair of blue-jeaned legs swinging in mid air...  I remember the days (long gone now) when I was the one jogging, riding bicycles, etc and David was upset because he had to stay with his dad because his little legs couldn't keep up with me.  Now I huff and puff as I walk around the block, trying to keep up with him!
      As I get ready to celebrate my 57th Christmas, I find myself choosing which body part I want to favor as  I go out shopping. Now, for example, if I don't want my knees to hurt, I wear the flat K-Mart version of Uggs (that cost about 16.00.. ) when I shop.    If I don't want my feet to hurt, on the other hand, I wear my New Balance (which cost considerably more than 16 bucks..).  In the evenings, instead of hitting the malls, I wrap up in an open blanket with sleeves and a pocket (who would have ever thought??) and then wrap a microwaveable terry cloth something or other around my neck.  Pure bliss!!!
     When I hit my forties, I was going through a time of transition and it wasn't that easy for me.   I struggled with  Christmas especially  because my mom was gone and also because I  could look in the mirror and see her staring back at me... which was kind of scary!   I remember that this whole aging issue really came home to me one Christmas Eve as I was walking through the house  in a housecoat and slippers, trying to make sure the cornbread would be dry enough for the stuffing the next day, checking on the fruit jello pudding to see if it was gelling...  while everyone else was at a party.  That was sooooo my mom!  What was happening here? It was like I had somehow inadvertently stepped into the Twilight zone of Christmases past!  Agghhh!  I didn't want to be the menopausal, corn-bread stuffing maker in our family!  It really hit me that I still wanted to be young and fairly carefree - especially on holidays.
     Now I'm in transition again but I don't feel unhappy with my  age or the things I have to do, can't do, etc.    Oddly enough, I'm pretty contented and accepting of the fact that sixty is just around the corner.  The only thing I can think of to explain the difference is that Paul had it right when he wrote in II Cor. 4:16 - 18   "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.  For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."   Maybe it would be nice to be young, lithe, and physically strong again. But even though that's not going to happen, I understand that I have an inner strength that can grow and keep on growing even as my physical body wears out.
       However, just as David has had to build up his physical muscles over the years, going from weak to strong, I have had  to develop some spiritual "muscle" over the years and I still have to work to maintain that.  Although everyone is probably tired of hearing it, Scripture memory has been and is a huge part of my "spiritual building program".
    As I said in my previous blog, Christmas Eve of '83 was when I really had a strong desire to memorize a whole chapter in the Bible.   Before that time, I was memorizing Scriptures but I was pretty "weak" at it.  Sometimes I might take 2 or 3 weeks to do one verse, baby steps so to speak.  If I thought a verse was too long, honestly,  I'd look for a short one:)  (Jesus wept... For we walk by faith not by sight... I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me... Just ask me - I probably know them all!)  And then there would be long stretches where I did little Bible study of any type at all.
   Going back a year in time to 1982, I remember that we  had an unusually stormy  November and December and that my fear of storms  helped keep my spiritual nose to the grindstone:)  The night before Thanksgiving we actually had tornado alerts out and I was really scared.. . so frightened that I messed up while trying to  make my first Boston Cream Cake.   (I was listening to the weather reports, spassed out  and totally forgot to put the oil in... I have to say... it was a pretty solid cake...)  Also that Thanksgiving Eve, I talked to a friend on the phone, heard him say good-night to his father, and then learned the next day that his dad had died suddenly in the night from a heart attack. At the time, I wondered if the tornado alerts and the sudden changes in barometric pressure could have affected his heart - have no clue, it was just a thought that stayed with me over the next few weeks as our weather continued to fluctuate between  highs and lows.
   Since I was fearful, I did what  I could to manage my stress and  I remember praying frequently that the weather would get cold and stay that way just so that we wouldn't have any more storms. However,this is Arkansas... and  on Christmas Eve we once again  had all kinds of weather alerts going out over the television and radio.  In fact, that night  an F4 tornado traveled from Arkansas to Missouri killing 3 people. It seemed surreal that both holidays would be marred by severe weather.
   I also remember standing in a large warehouse-like grocery store Christmas Eve afternoon, knowing full well that the weather could turn really nasty.  While I waited on mom to finish her shopping, I pulled out my memory cards. I had been working on Romans 4:20-21 for weeks but couldn't seem to get it down.  It was too long, too convoluted and I had decided to give up on it.
   But what else was there to do besides worry about the weather while I waited?  So I dragged out the cards,   leaned against the wall and   doggedly started with the first words, "Yet with respect to the promise of God..."    Ever so often I would stop and complain to God that I had Teflon brain again and was getting nowhere.  I may have even given Him some pointers on how to edit that passage to make it more practical... ha!
   Now almost thirty years later, those verses have become my "life verses" - ones that I've lived by and relied on time and time again - more than any other Scripture passages that I've learned. When I'm stressed, they are the first verses that come to mind. And three different times over the last decades, I've gone to bed stressed only to wake up with those verses somehow incorporated into my dreams.. not kidding.
  What if I had given up on Christmas Eve back in 1982? What if I had not been so stressed that in desperation, I forced myself to keep going over and over those verses? What if I had not prayed and asked God to help me with those two impossible-to-memorize verses?
   What if I 'd never read the first biography of Dawson Trotman? Or my brother had never become involved in Navigators and then introduced me to their memory program?
   I guess I'm saying, if I had just given up in Dec. of 1982, would I have been even thinking about trying to do James 1 on Christmas Eve in 1983?
   Spiritual strength like physical strength grows as we develop it.  And it's neat to be able to look back at past Christmases and see not only physical and emotional mile markers but also spiritual ones as well.
   

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Memories # 14

     I have read that  Elizabeth I of England once told the King of Spain that she was a weak woman and therefore entitled to change her mind (or words to that effect).  I'm thinking that if it worked for her, it might work for me... :)  I do want to share another memory along the lines of what I shared in yesterday's blog, but as we were putting out Christmas stuff yesterday (finally!!!), another memory came to mind and  at my age, when they come along you have to write them down before they leave again... So I'm going to shelve yesterday's memory track until another day.
    When David was about 5 years old, we used to watch a battery-operated Christmas train go around this extremely short, plastic track - it was on sale at a nearby store. We both wanted it but it was too expensive for our Christmas budget back then - we had presents to buy, turkeys to purchase, yada, yada....  But then one day we saw a 50% sale sign near the train and it was a couple of weeks still before Christmas.  I asked a store employee if the train was included and he said he didn't think it was.  However, he got the manager, who looked at David and looked at the train and then said, "Well, technically it's not included in the sale items but ... I'm going to go ahead and give you the discount."  We were thrilled!
    We came home and Phil set it up under the tree where David watched it's short journey to no-where and back  again, over and over. It was a huge success!  A few nights later, David was in his room when Phil and I heard this tremendous screeching and yelling - a horrible commotion. Then David came running out of his room, grabbed his Play-Skool plastic chair, shoved it in the corner and sat down facing the wall, looking scared as all get-out.
    I ran into his bedroom where this awful commotion was still going on, only to see the cat frantically racing  around the room with the battery operated Christmas train stuck to the fur on its back, still merrily playing its tinny carols.  The cat was not a happy camper...  I couldn't even get near the  cat so I started yelling for Phil. He ran into the room, shut the door to keep the cat in there and finally managed to hold the animal still long enough to untangle the train from its fur.
    Phil didn't go unscathed in this rescue operation and as soon as the cat was freed from the train, he demanded to know how in the heck the train got on the cat's back in the first place.  David was still scared to death but he was also puzzled.  How could anyone not figure that one out?  To him, it was so obvious - you have a battery-operated train that plays Christmas music and a cat that normally lets you drag it around the house tail over head - how could anyone resist the opportunity to run  the choo-choo over the cat's back??? And who would have ever thought that it would get stuck in the (long-haired ..) cat's fur???
   Again, as I stated in an earlier blog the phrase "seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child" has more than one meaning.... ;)  If you have kids, grand kids, nieces, nephews, neighbor's kids, whatever -  and they are driving you crazy and/or doing things that seem to test your patience as well as age you rapidly - hang in there - someday you'll pull out a Christmas decoration and the you did what???!!!  holiday  moments of today will be great memories.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Memories # 13



  As I think back over Christmases past, I realize that although they followed a pattern of sorts, they weren't all alike.  After I graduated from college and my brother went into the military, sometimes our Christmases were spent with others and occasionally they weren't - on a few rare occasions it was pretty much just myself and mom.
   In 1983 I  had been given an early Christmas present, a small paperback called The Navigator,which is  a spiritual biography  of Dawson Trotman.   Daws founded a ministry called The Navigators which focused at that time on reaching out to our men  in uniform back before WWII ever even started. He really believed with all his heart and soul in Scripture memory and worked as hard as he and his wife could at training young service men in the basic principles of the Bible.
  I had already read a traditional biography of Daws  by Betty Lee Skinnner and I'd like to draw from both books for this  blog.
  First, while I enjoyed the standard biography by Skinner, the small paperback account of Daw's spiritual growth actually brought me to my knees on Christmas Eve of 1983 - it  impacted me greatly, probably more than I can say.  As I read how God worked in Daws' life and how he responded with all of his being, I felt challenged, actually in awe of Who God is and what He can do with a life surrendered to Him.  I remember laying the book down and then kneeling in front of an armchair, resting my head on the seat cushion - the room just illuminated by Christmas candles and the lights on the tree.  For the first time ever in the quiet beauty of that simple room, I asked God if there was something I could give Him.
   Before I got up from my knees, I had a deep desire to memorize a chapter in the Bible as my present to Him.   But since I had never been able to memorize more than a verse or two at a time, I realized that I could never do it without His help.  So like a child asking a parent for money so that they could turn right around and buy the parent a gift :), I asked God to give me the stick-to-itiveness or whatever was needed (probably a few more brain cells, actually) to complete this "gift".
   I also told Him that I'd memorize any chapter He placed on my heart to do - it was His call.  Then I started flipping through the Bible, going from one chapter to another; however, always lingering over chapters I preferred, passages such as  Psalms 103, II Kings 6 (Elisha and the chariots of fire), John 10, Romans 8, Hebrews 11.... so many neat chapters to choose from! But as I flipped through the Bible, praying, God seemed to keep drawing my attention to James chapter 1.  James was not my favorite book (better than Revelation but definitely not my favorite...) and every time I looked at those verses, I would go "Naahhhh, God can't be leading me to this chapter!"  But after repeatedly feeling like this was where He wanted me to "settle", I finally bowed to the inev as Bertie Wooster would say and started to copy James 1, verse 1 onto an index card.
   I have to say that God definitely did His part - enabling me to memorize four verses a week - something I'd never done before. Over the years, I went on to memorize other passages by His grace but none were as easy as those 27 verses in James.  Now, many years later, I've found that I can go back to it and with a little work, recall it almost word-perfect in a fairly short period of time and whenever I do, God always uses it to bless me.
   I guess I've just said that to say that the Christmas of '83 wasn't the Charles Dickens picture post-card type of celebration with a throng of joyous people lifting hearty glasses of mead... I mean, eggnog.. while laughter filled the room (i.e., old Fezziwig's Christmas parties).  In fact, I remember it as being  a quiet celebration with just a few close family members (although my memory may be faulty on that score).  But it stood out for me because for the first time, I really included Christ in our circle, as if He were a celebrant  right there in our little home - which I fully believe He was.  And the way I did that was by simply kneeling and asking if I could give Him a gift by memorizing part of His love letter to me.  (My brother has carried on this tradition far more than I and one of the highlights of our Christmas get-togethers is when he shares the passage about Christ's birth from memory. I always love that.)
   As I've indicated, there is something else that I'd like to share from these books about Daws and the Navigators and Christmases past.  But this blog is already pretty long and I have decorations to put out!  (Whether my husband realizes it or not, whether the remodeling is complete or not, whether the earth stays on its axis or not... today is the day!  My Christmas things are going up or else!!!  How's that for Christmas cheer??)   So I'll just end this in the time-honored way of old-fashioned novels that were released section by section in magazine installments..
   To be continued... :)





   

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Memories # 12

     I love my in-laws but it is true that opposites attract :)  My family celebrated Christmas in a fairly traditional way - go to church on Christmas Eve, wake up early on Christmas morning to rip and tear into the presents and then prepare for a big meal after which... you nap!!
   Not my in-laws. At least, not back then.  (I think I've had a dampening effect on them over the years..)  At any rate, the second Christmas of my married life, my in-laws decided to adopt a theme for the family get-together.  As luck would have it,  they settled on The Grinch Who Stole Christmas with the idea being that each person would dress up like one of the characters in the story. The only problem was that there weren't enough memorable characters for everyone in the family to have a part.  That meant that Phil and I, as the founders of the feast, were let off the hook and could dress normally - sort of.  (I think we had to dress up like Dr. and Mrs. Suess... )  However, other family members appeared on our doorstep dressed as Cindy Lou Who, The Grinch, The dog-cum-reindeer, and.. um... a Christmas tree, complete with twigs and ornaments sticking to their ensemble.

    To my way of thinking, it was a little..weird...  and since I knew that my next door neighbor pretty much watched everything that went on in our house, I hovered near the front door and  tried to personally usher each in-law into the house... as quickly as I could!!  Although I was definitely on uncharted territory that day :0), it actually turned out to be a lot of fun. When we weren't looking, the Grinch managed to get the presents from under the tree and hide them in various places. There was a lot of laughter as we tried to track down our unopened presents.  Finally we had all of them but one and no matter where we looked, we couldn't find it.  It eventually  turned up in the freezer - first and only time we've ever had a  shirt in there...
    The next few Christmases seemed pretty ordinary and then a chance remark changed all of that.  The Christmas of 1990 was David's first and the roads were treacherous with ice. Somehow my in-laws made it to one central  location but traveling was unnerving at times.  After we were all back safely in our homes, I was talking to my older sister-in-law on the phone.  We were recalling how nerve-wracking the roads were and we both agreed that we didn't care if we ever saw icy roads again.  Then I made the innocent remark of, "Next year, let's do Christmas in June."
    That was all it took.  A few days later, Phil's older sister called and confirmed that  we were, indeed,  having Christmas in June.   (If she could have read my mind, she would have found the great Suthen' response of "Do whut????"  registered there.)   This sister-in-law is creative, likes to think outside the box and would be the first to tell you all of that.    I didn't really know Christmas had an outside-of-the-box...  Christmas in June???? Two Christmases in a sixth-month period?  I thought she had to be kidding but she wasn't!
   Next, we learned that it was not only going to be a June Christmas but also a family reunion with a couple of aunts and uncles coming in from other places.  Which meant that we'd have to host at least one aunt and uncle in our house.  Which was going to be a little awkward because at that time we didn't have central air nor did we have enough window units to go around. Not to mention enough double beds.
   It was at this point that my creative sister-in-law asked me what theme I thought we ought to adopt. Since I had taken a year-long maternity leave and we were broke and I was not a happy bunny, I told her the only theme we could do was  poverty.
   Wrong thing to say!!!
   The next time she called, she was bubbling over with excitement and had it all worked out.    She had purchased  some cheap dish rags and was going to sew patches on them so that  we could use those for napkins.  She also had the table decorations all lined up - they  would be along the lines of the Beverly Hills Clampett Family... before they discovered oil... And the table runner would have patches on it to match the napkins.  Everything would be a hodgepodge, hillbilly Christmas!!
   I was not on board with all this and Phil got an ear full - From now on, I won't say anything to your sister that I don't literally mean, word-for-word!!!  Who ever heard of  poverty as a theme for Christmas??  What will the neighbors think?  (Actually, I shouldn't have worried... They loved it! Laughed about it for weeks afterward  :(   And how are we going to afford all this???
   That June as I started dragging my Christmas decorations out of the attic and putting all that stuff out -again -  while  it was a balmy 80 degrees outside - I was reconciled to  but not eager for the big event.  Since I didn't know Phil's aunts and uncles well, I tried hard to put my best foot forward, cook my part of the meals perfectly. But somehow the meat was tough, things didn't come together well, and the house, without adequate air conditioning, was like an oven in the bedrooms.  (I remember taking Phil out on the carport the first night we had guests  and hissing something to the effect that if he didn't do something, we were going to inadvertently cook his aunt and uncle!  In retrospect, I can see that wasn't the best way to start a conversation but somehow Phil refrained from responding in kind and we worked out a way to get some cool air into their bedroom.
   The first full day that his uncle and aunt stayed with us, I got up early to tend to the baby, hoping to keep him from disturbing our guest's sleep.  I knew I hadn't convinced them I was Betty Crocker but I still hoped I could convince them I was the perfect mom...     I tiptoed into the nursery, picked the baby  up in the semi-darkened room, and lovingly brought his cheek to rest against mine - I always loved to do that. Only this time, his cheek felt rough!  I couldn't figure out what it was until I got him into the bathroom and saw, to my horror, that he'd had an intestinal issue and had gotten it all over his bed and his face, where it had hardened to the consistency of concrete.  I'm not kidding!!   Of all times! How could this be happening to us??
   I grabbed my precious child and whisked him into a bath asap (with lots of bubble bath!) where I scrubbed him til his skin turned red. But he still had some on him and he didn't smell like bubble bath!  So I dumped out the water and went at it again - this time scrubbing his little face to the point that he started hollering.  (And I didn't blame him!  But I had to get him clean!)  Finally, when his cheeks were rosy (most definitely...), I dumped out the bath water and inhaled deeply to see if he passed the smell test - he didn't! I couldn't believe it!
   So I ran  to the bedroom where Phil was sleeping, child wrapped in towel, red-faced and mutinous, with me hissing (again!) Phil! Phil!  YOu've got to get up!  I've already bathed the baby twice but he still stinks! I need some help here!   Phil, who does not wake up easily, was probably wanting to re-examine the fine print in our marriage contract but he dutifully hauled out of bed and gave our sweet child his third bath of the morning!
    It was at this point that I just thought, "What the heck!" and talked to Phil's aunt Martha openly, sharing my woes about the food, the air conditioning, the baby blow-out, you name it!  And it was at this point, that this Godly woman, who had raised several children, lost one, and who had lived with polio most of her adult life, infused her humor and gentle wisdom into my heart and life.  She was a godsend!
    Then Phil's other aunt, who was not staying at our house, sat down with me that evening and went through a ton of family photos that Phil had  somehow inherited. I didn't know if she would want to do that because she had also lost two children in tragic circumstances. But she also taught me, explaining that looking at photos was a good way to deal with the past, that even the bad parts had a good side to them. That evening she identified photos that were a mystery to us and told us a lot of family history. It was  good for all of us.
    Then, a few months after our tropical Christmas, one of Phil's uncles died unexpectedly.  The other uncle already had Parkinson's when he was visiting here and it soon became clear that he would never be able to travel to Arkansas again.
   What we  would have missed if I  had not (begrudgingly) done the Christmas- in-June thing...   I guess I've said all that to say this: Christmas is about making memories.  The truth is that making memories is not always palatable at times. But over the years the memories, like gold,  increase in value until they become priceless, worth it all.