CHRISTMAS PAST

I ADORE CHRISTMAS—EVERYTHING ABOUT IT!

I am awed by the blinding light of hope that descended upon this darkened world with the advent of Christ—the light that still shines in every dark corner. I love baby Jesus, the shepherds, the angels, the gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  I’m reminded that all the beauty and brightness of Christmas finds its source in this glorious light.

Honestly, I am annoyed by people who complain about Christmas, and long for it to be over and done with.  Yes, it is tiring and sometimes stressful, but it’s a sort of happy tiredness.  There is a sense of satisfaction at what you accomplished today.  You just might be able to get it all done after all.

Today, I am thinking back seventy-five or eighty years to my first remembrances of Christmas.  We lived poor, but my Mama always made Christmas special.  There was no money for fancy, expensive gifts, and we didn’t need them.  It is amazing what a child can and will love.

When I was almost four, Santa brought me a little wooden doll’s bed.  I can still see it.  I must have had a dolly too, but I was thrilled with my little brown bed carrying it from room to room.  I don’t remember other gifts that year.  The bed was enough.  And, that was the momentous year, when my ten-year-old brother decided to set me straight about Santa Claus.

old-card-1348456_1280

“There is no Santa!” he declared.

I didn’t believe him.  I still don’t believe him.  The little girl in me loves Santa.  For me, he takes nothing from the real significance of Christmas.  I have no trouble with beautiful things that have become tradition.

Mama always bought Christmas goodies—apples, oranges, hard candy and orange slices, nuts still in the shell, and old fashioned chocolate drops.  They were the best.  They looked like little delectable mountains—strawberry, vanilla, and maple centers robed in dark chocolate.  Yummmm!!!

I don’t ever recall having a Christmas stocking.  My mother always divided the treats equally between family members putting them into little brown paper bags, one for each of us.  Those goodies were mine.  I could eat them all making myself sick ruining my dinner, or I could squirrel them away and make them last until New Years.

In my hometown, there was always a treasure hunt on Christmas Eve.  All the merchants, on Main St., offered a giveaway.  If you held the right number, the gift was yours.  So, in the cold, early evening of December 24, Mama, June and I walked the few blocks to town looking in every shop hoping against hope that we held the magic number.  I don’t think we ever won anything, but just being there with the bright lights, beautiful window displays, and the bustle and clamor of other hopefuls was intoxicating.

noel-1827278

More than one Christmas Eve I came home with an earache.  My little ears were sensitive to the cold December air.  Mama would awake to my cry in the middle of the night bringing a little cloth bag of salt, which she had heated on the back of the stove.  With a kiss, she placed the warm bag on my ear.  The heat and weight of it relieved the pain.  Or was it the kiss that worked the magic?

Christmas dinner was phenomenal.  Two fat hens roasted in the oven stuffed with Mama’s luscious cornbread dressing laced with an abundance of sage.  All week the house had smelled of sugar cookies and mincemeat pie baking in the oven.

Mama made a delicious raisin, spice cake, but she always said, “It just doesn’t seem like Christmas until my coconut cake is finished.”

Mama’s three layer coconut cake frosted with airy White Mountain frosting and oodles of coconut was the epitome of Christmas in our house.  A slice of that cake and a helping of strawberry Jello filled with apples, bananas and pecans was the best bite of the day.

After I was an adult, I decided to improve on Mama’s coconut wonder.  I used lemon instead of yellow cake, and I spread lemon filling between the layers.  It was good, but it wasn’t the same, and Mama didn’t mind saying so.

The gifts had been opened, the wrappings disposed of.  Of course, Mama always saved ribbons and the larger pieces of paper—wrinkles and all.

I can still hear her say, “Careful, careful.  Don’t tear it.”

She could press out the wrinkles and use the paper again next year.  That’s how you save money.

Our kitchen and dining area were combined in one fairly large room.  Today the open concept is greatly desired.  For us it was a simple necessity.

In those early years, we were all at home.  Nine of us sat around the table, bowed our heads and thanked God for His blessing, and devoured the wonderful meal Mama made.

We all knew well the import of Christmas.  We knew about God’s wondrous gift to this world.  Most of us had accepted that gift as our very own.

Not a one of us owned a checkbook or a bank account, but we were, oh, so rich because of God’s generosity.  Jesus made the difference!

For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given…And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6.

JESUS WANTS TO BE YOUR VERY BEST GIFT THIS CHRISTMAS.

 

THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW

 

LET’S TALK TURKEY

Attempting to refresh my memory concerning the first American Thanksgiving in 1621, I kept running into the gobbler—the bird we call “turkey.”  I learned more about this bare-headed, strange looking bird with wattle and iridescent plumage than I really needed to know.  Nonetheless, it is entertaining.

How in the world did this native North American bird come to be called “Turkey?”  Long before America existed, as a country, the Ottoman Empire, now the country of Turkey, imported guinea fowl from eastern Africa.  The guinea fowl came to be called the “Turkey-cock or Turkey-hen.” When settlers in the New World, began to send similar-looking birds back to Europe, they were mistakenly called turkeys.  The name stuck.

“Turkey” is not only used to identify the bird, which has become the centerpiece of the American Thanksgiving feast but is used in a variety of other ways.

Sometimes “turkey” is used to describe (unkindly) a loser, an uncoordinated, inept, clumsy person, someone who is generally uncool.

lets-talk-1Those of you who have ever bowled will know that getting three strikes in a row is called a “turkey.” It is thought this began as a Thanksgiving tradition in the 1800’s.  The first person to bowl three strikes in a row during the week of Thanksgiving received a live turkey to take home for dinner.

The turkey, a true native of America, was Benjamin Franklin’s pick for our national bird.

“Talk Turkey” simply means to speak plainly and get to the point.  So, let’s “talk turkey” about giving thanks.

In September of 1620, the tiny Mayflower sailed from Plymouth, England with 102 passengers and 30 crewmen.  The ship was approximately 100-110 feet long from stem to stern and 25 feet wide.  The passengers, 102 of them, lived in an area 50 X 25 feet with a 5-foot ceiling.  When I walked on board that life-size replica anchored in Plymouth harbor, it was impossible to imagine how 130 people could survive a 66-day storm-tossed voyage under such conditions.

Many of the settlers were religious separatist seeking a new home, where they could freely practice their faith.  They were willing to suffer anything for that freedom.

During the first bitter winter in the new world, most passengers stayed on board the Mayflower.  They suffered from exposure, scurvy, and contagious diseases.  Only half lived to see their first New England spring eventually learning from the Wampanoag Indian tribe how to survive in this strange new land.

In November 1621, Governor Bradford organized a Harvest feast to celebrate and give thanks to God for survival of the colony.  Nowhere is it recorded that this celebration was called Thanksgiving, nor do we know whether or not they ate turkey, but it did lay the foundation for our beloved American holiday.

In many American households, Thanksgiving has lost much of its original religious significance.  It has become merely a day of feasting, football, and family.

In 1941, President, Franklin Roosevelt signed a bill officially making the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving Day.

lets-talk-2

BUT—you can’t legislate Thankfulness.  You cannot force people to be thankful.  I think there must be a God-awareness in the heart in order to be truly thankful, and that awareness must be instilled from an early age.   Otherwise, the blessings of life and our American freedoms are taken for granted and are often squandered.

An old song tells us to:

“Count your blessings.  Name them one by one.

…Count your many blessings, see what God has done.”

I woke up this morning counting my blessings.  When I crawled out of bed, I was thankful that I could stand straight without pain.  When I prepared breakfast, I thanked God I don’t have to worry about where next week’s groceries are coming from.  I looked around and found myself thankful for my sweet little home and the pretty bougainvillea blooming outside the window.  When I get in my little red car and head toward the church, I am thankful, there will be smiling faces there to greet me, and people will actually show up and listen to my Bible study.

There’s so much more for which to be thankful:  My salvation, my hope in Christ, eternal life, my family and friends, and YOU.  I am a retired minister, but I still have a congregation.  Thank you for reading each week.  I am honored.

Psalm 100:4, “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise.  Be thankful to Him and bless His name.”

Again, in Psalm 119:164, the psalmist says, “Seven times a day I praise you…”

            In Psalm 34:1, he also says, “…His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”

DON’T WAIT UNTIL NOVEMBER 24 TO THANK GOD.

WHAT IF YOU WOKE UP TODAY WITH ONLY WHAT YOU THANKED GOD FOR YESTERDAY?

THINK ABOUT IT!

THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

DON’T PANIC!

Pan, the noisy, goat-footed Greek god of the woods, was the source of mysterious sounds and loud music, inciting contagious, groundless fear in people and in animals, hence the word “Panic.”

By the mid 1950’s, the figurative term “Panic Button,” had become a familiar part of the English vocabulary.  Now, it is not unusual to see advertisements for real panic buttons made available to the elderly or physically impaired for use in emergency.

I have always considered myself to be a cool customer.  I am either that calm, optimistic gal, that I claim to be, or like the proverbial ostrich, my head is buried in the sand.  Fact is I am not easily ruffled.  However, I do recall a time—the time when I burned up a whole field.

In my opinion, there is not really much good to say about summertime in “THE VALLEY OF THE SUN,” in Arizona, where I live.  “Miserable” is the word that comes to mind.  Someone has said that there is only a screen door between here and hell.  When it’s 118 degrees, I’m almost tempted to believe it.  No one, in his right mind, could enjoy a picnic, here, on the Fourth of July.

firecracker-801902_1920

Yet, the Fourth of July was an exciting day.  There was watermelon, fried chicken, and homemade ice cream enjoyed in the cool, damp comfort of our old evaporative cooler, and don’t forget the fireworks.  I loved the fireworks.  After supper, on the fourth, My Mama, little sister and I walked across town to Rendezvous Park and sat on the grass to watch the magical display.  Even in the heat of the night, the fireworks, against the darkened sky, were mesmerizing.

On the Fourth of July, when I was almost twelve years old, I had my own “FIREWORKS.” Really!  I did.  I had a handful of little red fire crackers about three inches long, and I was dying to set them off, but doing so within the city limits was against the law.  So, my girl friend and I walked to the end of the street, jumped across the dry irrigation ditch, and landed in a large vacant field overgrown with dried weeds.  We were no longer in town.  We were, now, in the country.

I had come prepared for this exciting adventure.  I retrieved a match from my pocket, struck it and lit the end of a firecracker, immediately tossing it away from me into the dried brush.  Instead of exploding, making that pop, pop, popping sound I had anticipated, a fire blazed up.

burning-grass-1165823_1920

“Help,” I yelled at my friend, as I began stomping at the flame.  “Hurry, help me put this out,” but she immediately went into panic mode falling on her belly on the ditch bank, wailing like a banshee.  The more I stomped the wider the fire spread until I gave up in terror.  She was no help, and there was no possibility that the fire engines would show up.  We were no longer in the city limits.

The fire, swift as lightning, gobbled up the dead brush until the whole field was ablaze.  Homes bordered the field on two sides, and suddenly, as if by magic, men appeared with wet burlap bags, “gunny sacks,” beating at the flames.  They worked diligently, in the hot July sun, until any semblance of fire was gone.

I stood on the far side of the field, watching the drama, knowing that it was my fault.  I had burned down the whole field all by myself.  There was no one else to blame.

What would they do to me?  Surely they would come shaking their fingers in my face telling me I had endangered their homes.  But no!  Without a word, they just went home and so did I.  I never breathed a detail of this escapade to my parents, but in the dark of night, I wondered when the police would show up, when they would cart me off to jail, how much the fine would be.  My life was over.  I was sure of it.

My fears, however, were groundless, and life went on as usual.  As far as I know, no one ever knew I had accidentally set that fire.   No one knew I was an ARSONIST!  The episode was soon forgotten.

We all fear certain things.  My sister panics at the thought of flying.  Others fear heights or closed spaces.  My nephew fears germs and will not touch another person.  These fears may be groundless, but they are no less real causing dysfunction and misery.

Isaiah 41:10 (The Message) says, “Don’t panic.  I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.  I’ll give you strength.  I’ll help you.  I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.”

The next time life overwhelms you and you feel like pressing that “Panic Button,” remember, if you belong to God, He holds you close with a firm and tender grip.  Have no fear.  He will not let you go, and…

The sun will come out tomorrow

 

BUT I HOPED…

By the time you read this, the voting will be over, and we will have a new president.  You may be thrilled.  You may be heartsick.  He or she may not be the one you prayed for – the one for whom you cast your vote.  But, the people have spoken, and he or she is the president.  You may feel hopeful, you may feel hopeless.

Regardless, I am compelled to say that no president, king or any other official, whoever he is, can solve the problems in your life or meet the needs of our sad and wounded nation.  Insurmountable walls or open borders will not do it nor will any other promise made and kept.

I encourage you today.  GOD IS STILL IN CHARGE.  It may not seem like it.  You may wonder where He is in all this mess, but I assure you, HE IS IN CHARGE!  Out of sight, He still steers the ship sticking to His master plan.  Christianity has survived in spite of the rise and fall of many nations, and it will survive whatever happens in our beloved America.

Daniel 2:21 tells us, God “…raises up kings and also brings them down…”

sunset-215375_1280

Don’t you think that includes presidents and other government leaders?

So, no matter who our new president is, whether “lily white,” I say that with tongue in cheek, or corrupt to the core, he is part of God’s plan for this nation—another step toward God’s final purpose.  This is not fatalism—it is a fact.  You can’t see it now, but you will in time.

More than 2,500 years ago God raised an ungodly, Persian King to the throne for His purpose.  God used Cyrus to set Israel free after seventy years of captivity.  Be comforted.  God does use sinful people to facilitate His plan and purpose.

We all have hopes and dreams.  We hope for enough money to do this or that.  We hope the kids don’t get sick.  We hope it will rain or it won’t.  We hope for a better, brighter future.  We hope that America has another chance.  HOPE IS OUR LINCHPIN.  Without hope, life would be totally unmanageable.

“Hope deferred, hope that is not realized, makes the heart sick.” That’s what King Solomon said in Proverbs 13:12.

We’ve all been tragically disappointed, when things for which we hope, do not come to pass.  Failure to obtain that good thing, for which we long, makes the heart sad and sorrowful.

However, we must be cautioned to be careful upon whom and upon what we pin our hopes.

Yesterday morning at worship service we sang:

“Christ is enough for me.

Christ is enough for me.

Everything I need is in You,

Everything I need.”

 

Truth be told, Christ is our only source of real hope and anything else we will ever need.  He is a good, good God perfect in all His ways, and He loves you.  It is His love that makes you who you are—that makes you a person of worth.

In Jeremiah 29:11, God speaks directly to us saying, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you…thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

I admit to you, today, things look bleak, but God is thinking of you and planning for you.  You will have a future where hope will be realized.

There is an old song of commitment that I sang as a teenager.  The song has been repurposed and given a new melody, as have many others, but it says the same thing.

“I have decided to follow Jesus,

No turning back, no turning back

The Cross before me,

The world behind me.

No turning back, no turning back.”

 

I made that commitment seventy-five years ago, and many more times since.  I make it again today as I sit before my computer singing “No turning back, no turning back.”  That is the kind of determination that is required.  In spite of our hopes for our country and this world, my heart tells me that things are not going to get that much better.

I call upon you today to make a new commitment with me saying, “Jesus, I will follow you.  No matter how difficult things become, I will be true to you—I will not turn aside.  I give my life to You.”

I Peter 1:3-5, (The Message) “…Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now!  God is keeping careful watch over us and the future.  The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.”

WHAT A DAY THAT WILL BE!!!  In the meantime—

 

The sun will come out tomorrow

A HAND TO HOLD

God knows that, after my brief marriage of only five months, I am no expert concerning marriage.  Regardless, I have come to the conclusion that holding hands with Cecil was the sweetest thing – the thing that I miss almost more than anything else.  My lonely heart still longs for a hand to hold.

Hands are made to do a lot of things, and one of them is to hold another hand.  Hands fit perfectly together, despite whose hand you are holding, which makes it a comforting gesture.

hand-to-hold-3

Holding hands is a universal sign of intimate affection, which has a big impact on any relationship.  While it may seem like a small thing, it shows that you are thinking about your loved one, that you are there for him, that he is not alone, and you are willing to offer the comfort or security that he needs from you.  It is an act of togetherness.

This very common practice is sometimes referred to as “palms kissing.”  The sensuality in touching hands is just like kissing.  It produces Oxytocin, often called the “hug” or “cuddle” hormone, which strengthens the love bond.

Actually, Cecil kissed me before he ever held my hand.  It was a spur of the moment, sort of a casual kind of kiss.  Kisses are often given away freely and meaninglessly, but holding hands signify a more serious, committed connection.

I remember the first time Cecil reached out his hand to me.  It was like a magnet.  Without a moment’s hesitation, almost involuntarily, my hand reached back, and our fingers entwined.  The sweetness trickled down inside me and soaked my whole being like a maple syrup infused pancake.  Forever thereafter, just walking through the mall or sitting on the sofa, holding hands was an amazing gift.

That’s when I began to notice other couples holding hands, particularly older couples –couples Cecil’s and my age.  I saw them walking through the mall, sitting on a bench, making their way into church holding hands.  At first, I was surprised that, after fifty or sixty years, they were still doing that.  Then I was jealous, for I thought about the sweetness and intimacy they had so long enjoyed.

Cecil’s hands were big and strong and tender.  He had worked hard through the years making cakes mixes for General Mills and repairing air conditioners. Yet, he could still strum a happy tune on the guitar, mow the lawn, write wedding gift “thank you notes,” take out the trash, dry the dinner dishes, and yes, give wonderful, soothing, heaven scented massages.  But, holding my hand was the best thing he ever did with me.  He is gone now, and with him that intimate touch,

At the graveside, following Cecil’s funeral, my older sister, who is not much given to sentiment, reached over and took my hand.  I was grateful.  I needed that, but somehow, other human contact will never be enough.  I need something more.

I need the touch of “The Master’s Hand.”

The Sweet Singer of Israel said, in Psalm 139:5, “You, (speaking of God) …laid your hand on me.”  From my earliest years, I have sensed that same touch on my life.

hand-to-hold-2

The gospel song writer, Thomas Dorsey, wrote:

“Precious Lord, take my hand.

Lead me on, let me stand.

I am tired.  I am weak.  I am worn.

Through the storm, through the night,

Lead me on to the light.

Precious Lord, take my hand.

Lead me home.

hand-to-hold-1

Again, in Psalm 139:10, the Psalmist says, “…your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me.”

In Isaiah 41:13, The Lord says, “For the Lord your God will hold your right hand saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’”

The fact is since I began holding hands with God all those years ago, He has done all that Cecil could have done and so much more.  God’s strong hand has saved me, provided for me, strengthened me in my weakness, comforted me, lead me, protected me, and held me when I was lonely.  I need not fear, for He is my helper.

Jesus wants to hold your hand.  He wants to touch your life.  He wants an intimate relationship with you.

When I told my friend, Becky, that the sweetest thing about my marriage with Cecil was having a hand to hold, she looked very thoughtful.  Then she said, “I’m going to remember that.”

GOOD ADVICE:

  1. Place your hand in the Master’s hand and hang on tightly.  Through thick and thin, He will be everything, and more, than you could ever want or need.

 

  1. Tonight, after dinner, sit on the sofa, hold your loved one’s hand, and let the sweetness soak in. What a wonderful gift.

 

The sun will come out tomorrow