WHEN OPTIMISM FLYS THE COUP

 In my first blog, almost two years ago, I introduced myself to you as an OPTIMISTIC OCTOGENARIAN.  I’ve always thought of myself in those terms.  I’m the one who makes lemonade out of lemons, and I see the glass half full instead of half empty. “Nothing is ever as bad as it seems” “It will be better tomorrow. “ We can do something to fix this.”

I have been accused of being out of touch with reality because I refuse to see the hopeless side of things.  BUT—I must confess—lately, I have found myself questioning my own outlook.

Truth is the last five and one-half years have been the most stressful, traumatic time in my life—without a breather.  I have written about all of this, so I will not bore you with the details.

First, there was the unimaginable excitement and stress of marrying at an advanced age, then after only a few months, the death of my husband, and the unbearable grief that followed. When I could finally function again, I was confronted with my sister’s needs.  Things that seemed simple have become so complicated.  Nothing has gone smoothly.  There is one crisis after another, and I am tired.  There is always a knot in the pit of my stomach and I live with a sense of uneasiness, and at the same time, I live with a sense of hope that “this, too, shall pass.”

So, am I truly an optimist or have I been depending on my own innate strength.  I am a strong person.  I know that!  I’ve always been able to solve the problem in some way.  No more!  I am, now, at the mercy of others.

Is it true?  Have I, like the proverbial ostrich, been burying my head in the sand refusing to face reality?  If so, I find myself reluctant to admit it.  (By the way, the ostrich does not bury his head in the sand.)

In my moments of quiet contemplation, trying my best to understand all of this, I realize that my optimism springs from my relationship with God.

Everyone, whether Saint or outright heathen, suffers difficult problems. Many others face impossible, unsolvable situations.  How do they cope?  No wonder the suicide rate is increasing, and mental institutions are crowded with hopeless souls.

Realizing that my optimism is inextricably linked with my faith raises another question.  When optimism wavers, where does the fault lie?  Is my faith also wavering?

The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 4:6, told the people that they were “to be anxious for nothing.”  Then he gave them the cure for anxiety, “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Still, I am anxious, which seems to say that I distrust God’s power and wisdom, and doubt the reality of His promises.  Yet, I know that is not true.  I do trust Him.  That is the reason I keep coming back.

Of course, I pray, and others pray with me.  The problem lies in the fact that I know He hears me, but I don’t know, yet, what He is doing about it.  Could my impatience be part of the issue?

I have a way of wanting God to do it right now.  But, perhaps He is using this period to teach me a grand lesson—a lesson in patience.

In Luke 21, Jesus speaks to His followers about the terrible trials that will come in the last days, but He says, “Don’t worry for not a hair of your head shall be lost.  By your faith and patience, you shall have eternal life.”

James 1:3-4 says, “…the testing of your faith produces patience…that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

LACKING NOTHING!  WOW!  That surely puts a shot into the arm of my optimism.  Lacking nothing must mean that one day soon, I hope, all these awful, strength-sapping trials will be behind me.  I will heave a great sigh of relief and dance a joyful jig, and try to ward off the next onslaught.

I have been learning Christ all my life.  These years of pain have only served to reemphasize the truths already learned.  I KNOW that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.  I KNOW that He surrounds me with His loving care.  I KNOW that His Spirit indwells me and upholds me. I KNOW that He will cause me to triumph, and enable me to be faithful until death.

IN HIM I LACK NOTHING!

This truth ought to elicit a torrent of Thanksgiving.

If that isn’t optimism, I don’t know what is…

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BROKEN HEARTS

Does the hurt ever go away?” my friend asked, as the tears flowed.  Her husband of sixty plus years was recently deceased.

I couldn’t help but think that tomorrow, February 9, would have been my fifth wedding anniversary.  After being alone all of my adult life, at the age of seventy-seven, I married for the first time.  Sweet Cecil, a long time friend, who had been widowed, came on like a stormtrooper declaring he loved me, and there was no changing his mind.

The thought of giving up my prized independence terrified me.  I came and went as I chose.  My schedule was mine to arrange.  If I wanted to study in the middle of the night, there was no one to object.  I was accountable first to God and then to my church leaders.  That was it!  At this late juncture, I wasn’t looking for a man.  I had done quite well on my own.

My emotions ran rampant.  I was excited, fearful, hopeful, and pessimistic.  I was determined I couldn’t do this.  Yet, like the proverbial moth, I was drawn hypnotically toward the flame.  How could I, after all these years, make room for another person in my life?  How could I share my space, my stuff, my bed, be accountable to someone else twenty-four hours a day?

I was scared, but not stupid.  Being loved, being touched, being important to someone else was kind of fun.  I found myself succumbing to this cute, white-haired, charming man, who thought me “precious.”  I still laugh at that.

One morning I awakened early.  Lying there thinking of Cecil and the possibility of marriage, I thought, “Why do I cling so to my independence?  Being alone hasn’t done that much for me.”  In that moment I made up my mind.

On February 9, 2013, Cecil and I stood at the altar in his home church, where we had met.  Before God and 150 “forever” friends and family, we repeated our vows pledging ourselves to each other “For Better, for Worse.” We had many “For Better” plans:  serving missions overseas, cruising Europe’s rivers, and visiting the Great Wall of China.  On that cold, cloudless, sunshiny day, it was beyond us to think of anything but the “Better.”

Never once did I consider the hurt that might lie ahead.  But, the fact is, Cecil will not be here tomorrow to celebrate our anniversary.  Five months and eleven days after our fairytale wedding, he died of an inoperable aortic hematoma.

It made no sense.  Why did God allow this to happen?  What did I do wrong?  Why was I worthy of only five months with Cecil?  I wanted to remind God, “I was doing all right.  I wasn’t looking for a man.  Why did you interfere in my life?”

The hurt was beyond belief.  I’ve always been the strong one, but I was tired of being strong.  I wanted to fall in the floor and kick my heels and throw a fit.  I howled with grief.  Oh, how I wanted someone to take care of me for a change.  That was supposed to be Cecil’s job.

I prayed, but my prayers consisted mostly of the same tearful plea, “God, I need you.  Please help me.

I have discovered there is a “For Better or for Worse” in almost everything we attempt in this life.  We hope for and expect a good outcome, but life dictates that the outcome is sometimes really bad.  That’s when we experience the hurt.  O, it may not be the devastating hurt experienced at the loss of a loved one, but at one time or another, we all suffer hurt and disappointment.

So we return to my friend’s question.  “Does the hurt ever go away?”

My faith in a God who cares had kept me for more than seventy-seven years.  That’s why I was strong, and though I couldn’t see any purpose in Cecil’s death and the questions were unending, my faith remained intact.  I chose to trust God.

As I trusted Him, God wrapped the sharp corners of grief in His tender love, and bit by bit, the sun began to shine again.  I could get out of bed in the morning without falling apart, and I found new purpose for my life.

I can only attribute this miraculous healing to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, as I trusted God to help me find my way again.

In Isaiah 61:1-3, Jesus says of Himself, “He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted…to comfort all who mourn…to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning…”

There will always be a lonely place in my heart where Cecil fit perfectly.  I will wonder what life would have been had he lived.  But this I know.  God is faithful.  He is the healer of broken hearts.

REMEMBER THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

 

 

 

MY VALENTINE

We have very little reliable knowledge about Saint Valentine, a third century Roman Catholic Priest upon whose life, the little bit we know of it, we have built a worldwide holiday that will net $19.6 billion dollars this year.  Valentine’s Day is the busiest holiday of the year and ranks fourth in retail sales.

No one is quite sure how this happened.  We do know that the Roman Emperor, Claudius, prohibited young people from marrying, because, in his opinion, single men were better warriors.  They did not have to worry about wives and children, when they went to fight.

Valentine, this soft hearted, sympathetic priest, defied Claudius’ decree by marrying couples secretly.  On February 14, he was beheaded for his infraction of the law, later becoming known as “The Patron Saint of Lovers.”

It wasn’t until the high middle ages, historically associated with courtly love,  that someone came up with the idea of celebrating Saint Valentine and his martyrdom.  O, through the centuries, his death had been celebrated in churches, but this was different.  Now he would be remembered for his kindness and regard for lovers.  Thus was born Valentine’s Day as we know it.

I can’t help but reflect on Valentine Days in the past.  Remember those “beautifully” decorated classroom boxes?  I used lots of lacey, paper doilies and gallons of paste fabricating valentines for my classmates.  It was an exciting day.

In the fifth grade, I was in love.  There was brown eyed, dark haired Ronny and blue eyed, blond haired Keith.  I couldn’t choose, so I just loved them both from afar.  A Valentine from either of them became a treasured possession.

When I was an eighth-grader, I really was in love.  David walked me to school and carried my books.  I dreamed such wonderful dreams about him.  Then he moved away and took the dreams with him.

My church always threw a grand Valentine banquet each year.  The promo declared that the banquet was for everyone—married, unmarried, sweetheart or not.  For years I went hoping they were telling the truth.  However, in spite of the promises, everything was tailor-made for sweethearts.  I finally gave up on Valentine’s Day and Valentine banquets.

A few moments ago, I took a file out of the cabinet here by my desk.  It is marked “Cards to and from Cecil.” The file contains the first, last, and only Valentine that I ever received from my husband.  Cecil’s cards were usually sloppy with sentiment, but this time he chose a cute, funny one.  It says, “You are sweeter than a Pina Colada, more beautiful than a piano sonata, you are the whole enchilada, and I love you because “I just gotta!”  I honestly would have preferred the sloppy, sentimental card, but it would have made me cry today.  However, on a day when I really need to laugh, this card makes me laugh.  God surely must have known.

Cecil and I spent our only Valentine’s Day together on a boat off the coast of Maui.  It was a warm sunshiny day.  A slight breeze whipped up frothy meringue on the edge of the gentle waves.  There was fabulous food and live music.  Mostly, we just sat quietly holding hands and grinning at each other.  Somehow it was noised around that we were newlyweds.  There was a steady stream of people coming to congratulate us, offer a drink, or just a friendly smile.

There is no one here today.  The phone doesn’t ring, and there are no lacey valentines.  But I’m all right.  I have my sweet, goofy memories and the knowledge that I am not truly alone.   For God, who sustains me continually, has promised that He will never leave me nor forsake me, and He is my closest friend—closer than my brother.   In fact, He has promised to be my husband.

Isaiah 54:5, speaking to Israel, says, “For your maker is your husband, The Lord of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.  He is called the God of the whole earth.”  Think of that!

On this day for lovers, God will be to you everything that you are longing for.  If you are alone today, I pray you will remember how very much God loves you.

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,

And were the skies of parchment made,

Were every stalk on earth a quill,

And every man a scribe by trade,

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry.

Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

Though stretched from sky to sky.

LOVE OF GOD—

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

 

 

 

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF THINGS

It is all well and good to say that things are not important—that things really don’t matter.  There is a minimalist movement afoot where people are simplifying life by getting rid of all extraneous stuff and moving into tiny 200 sq. ft. homes on wheels.  I don’t know how serious these people are or whether this is just a short-term fad or phase.  Perhaps they feel superior or even spiritual giving up the trappings of ordinary life.  Fact is, I have been a minimalist all my life.  Actually, I was just poor, but minimalist sounds better.

It is my guess that even these people, who are leaving everything behind, have tucked away some very special things they cannot part with—things that are important, even precious to them.

Yesterday I got rid of a lot of stuff.  Almost a year ago now my sister moved into an Adult Care Facility.  Before leaving her much loved home of more than forty-five years, she showed me the things she wanted to take with her.  There was, of course, her bed, the lovely dresser and nightstand, a Tiffany lamp, the rose painted wall clock, the television, some paintings and a few decorative objects to adorn her room.

She stood before the sofa looking at the beautiful, beveled mirror on the wall.  “I wish I could take that,” she said wistfully.

I followed her into the kitchen.  She had removed her Christmas dishes and china from the hutch.  They were stacked on the counters, the table and even in the floor.  In bewilderment, she stretched out her arms and said, “I have these.”

The responsibility for clearing out, cleaning up, throwing away, selling and boxing up my sister’s entire life fell to me.  I was able to dispense with most of her furniture, but her kitchen stuff, linens, and smaller decorative items, I carefully wrapped and packed in cartons. Somehow I had no stamina or heart for a sale, so my sister’s stuff has been stacked in my garage.

Yesterday some friends carried away most of the cartons for the church rummage sale that raises money for missions.

In the end, I couldn’t give them everything.  I kept the Christmas dishes and China, the quilt Mama made, and the box labeled “pretty fragile things.”  June will never use them again, and I don’t need them.  But—just in case she asks again, “Where is my stuff?” I will be able to say, “I am keeping it safe for you at my house.”

One of my most precious possessions is a small transparent glass dog.  I have had it for more than seventy-five years.  Daddy brought it to me when he returned from a preaching trip.  It was filled with tiny, multicolored candies.  I flew to the door when I saw him coming up the walk.  I looked up at him through the screen, and he said, “O, I needed to see you.”

I have discovered something about precious things.  It is not necessarily the thing that is so precious.  Rather, it is the memory elicited by that thing that holds firm your heart and enriches relationship.

I have a box of my Mama’s precious things—the head of her china doll, grandpa’s mustache mug, and small shoe last, and a hand tatted baby dress.  I can imagine Mama, as a child, playing with that fragile china doll, grandpa drinking his coffee from the mustache mug, and forming a small pair of shoes in his cobbler’s shop, and my eighteen-year-old pregnant Mother tatting a baby dress in anticipation of the child she carried.

While I am defending the importance of certain things, there is a still small voice within that cautions me to hold loosely the things I possess.  Many assume that achieving the American dream is defined in the possession of things.  They are so ardent in their pursuit that they become possessed by their possessions.

Possessions and the acquisition of them must never become more important than my relationship with God and man.  Possessions must never replace my passion for God and His work.  Possessions must never obscure my view of heaven.

In 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, the Apostle Paul tells us, “…the time is short…” and “…those who buy should be as though they do not possess…for the fashion of this world (the way of this world) is passing away.”

Matthew 6:19-21 says “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Earthly treasures are temporary.  They are passing away while your genuine love for God and your selfless service to Him flow into your account in heaven.  You are laying up treasures far more valuable than anything you now possess.

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

 

 

GETTING LOST

I’m back!  I’m back!  For the past two weeks I have been lost in a miasma of forms and figures.  As my sister’s conservator, I am required, each year, to submit a documented report of all financial activity down to the penny.  I am convinced that all government forms are purposefully incomprehensible and confusing.

I sit for hours looking at the same column of figures trying to decide where they fit on this form, and wondering if anyone will ever really look at it.  Or is it just one of those “by the book” things that must be done.  I AM LOST!

Talking about being lost—I remember my first days in Brussels, Belgium all those years ago.  I had always lived in smaller towns.  Now I was in a city of two million people.  There was no rhyme or reason to the layout of the city, and the traffic was nuts.  I was almost afraid to drive, but I had an apartment mate, another single woman missionary.  Ginny had been there for a number of years, so surely she knew her way around.  Didn’t she?

On Saturday, we decided to do some shopping in the city center.  The “Bon Marche” and “Innovation” were two large department stores I was longing to explore.  Arriving at city center, we drove up and down and around the narrow cobblestone streets until we found a parking place.  After hours of looking and oohing and aahing and buying, arms loaded with our purchases, we headed back to the car.  I had no idea where it was, so I just followed Ginny.  After forty-five minutes of wandering up one street and down another, I finally voiced my doubt.

“You have no idea where the car is,” I exclaimed.

Leaning against a brick wall, my friend replied, “Now don’t get upset.  Pretty soon I’ll see something familiar.”

WE WERE LOST!

When friends from the States came to visit, we took them to see the “Cheese Market in Alkmar, in the Netherlands.  Alkmar is sometimes called “The Venice of the North.”  Canals crisscross the city running down the middle of the streets.  We found a parking place by one of those canals.  Before leaving the car, I suggested we write down the name of the street on which we were parked.  I had learned my lesson.

Ginny whipped out a pad and wrote, and we headed toward the Cheese Market.  After several enjoyable hours, it was time to start back to Brussels.

“Where are we parked,” I asked my friend.

I stared at the paper she handed me.  On it, Ginny had written “Voetpad,” translated “Footpath.”  Every street had a footpath.

WE WERE LOST!

At another time, a friend suggested, “Let’s just go around this block and then head north.  That will be faster.”

“No,” I objected.

Sometimes you could wind up twenty miles from home by going around a block in Brussels.  I preferred the familiar way.

It is hard to get lost these days.  We have so many helps:  maps, charts, compasses, global positioning systems and smart phones.  I read somewhere that “We have an entire generation of men who will never know what it is to refuse to ask for directions.”

However, even Siri and Google are sometimes wrong.

Getting lost, being lost or totally lost are popular expressions for someone in a desperate situation.  Insecurity is once again one of the defining features of our age. We are raising a generation, many of whom have no purpose, no direction and no hope for the future.  One does not have to be lost spatially, as I often was in Brussels, to be lost in life.

I am grateful that many years ago, with God’s help, I charted a course designed to reach a particular destination.  I WAS LOST until, at God’s bidding, I stepped onto the “footpath of life.” This course encompasses every area of my life. That is the beauty of it!

Each morning I read the guide book for the path I follow.  I talk to my guide, and He talks to me.  As long as I follow His directions, I stay on course headed for that wondrous destination.   Are there ever any problems, disappointments, or difficulties?  Of course!   We still live in an imperfect world.

Truth is.  I don’t like being lost.  I hate the uncertainty and the wasted time.

In Jeremiah 6:16, The Lord admonishes us.  “Stand in the old ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls…”

In Psalm 16:11, David declares his faith in the God he follows.  “You will show me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

We must learn to pray with the Psalmist David, in Psalms 25:4. “Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths.”

There need be no fear of ever being lost while following Him.

 

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

I DO HEREBY RESOLVE!

Self-improvement is a shared American Hobby.  That’s why more than 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions.

Charles Lamb, a writer from the 18th century, said, “New Year’s Day is every man’s birthday, simply meaning that no matter what a mess we made of 2017, the New Year gives us another chance to get it right.  We somehow believe, somehow hope, that we can turn over a new leaf, make a concerted effort, and finally accomplish our greatest desires.

We promise to lose weight, quit smoking, learn something new, eat healthier, read the Bible, get out of debt, spend more time with family, travel to new places, take things in stride, volunteer, and be kinder.

But in spite of all the good intentions, only a tiny fraction of us keeps our resolutions.  It is estimated that just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals.  How many New Year’s resolutions have you broken?

Why do so many people fail at keeping their New Year’s promises?

I believe that many times the goals we set are too magnanimous, too extreme, and often too vague dooming them to failure.  Shooting for the moon can be so psychologically daunting, that we never get off the launching pad, and our intentions die before taking the first step.

The other night, when I couldn’t sleep, I turned on the TV. There was a man talking about New Year’s resolutions.  He shared a formula that I believe might really work.

  1. Instead of making a vague promise, make a plan.
  2. Commit to your plan.
  3. Sacrifice whatever is necessary.
  4. Accept the consequences.

Losing weight is the number one New Year’s resolution, so let’s apply this formula to that goal.

Instead of saying I’m going to lose weight, make a plan—no potato chips, chocolate, or ice cream for six weeks.  If this seems impossible, then you must ask, “Am I really serious about losing.  What is your greatest temptation?  Be specific.

Commit to your plan.  No one can do it for you.

Will there be sacrifices?  Of course!  Will it be worth it?  Of course!

Be honest about what you are doing.  Years ago, when I joined Weight Watchers and lost a ton of weight, I prayed every day, “God, I’m doing everything I am told to do.”And that was absolutely true.  I was serious about it.  My prayer continued, “Please make my body respond as it should.”

No matter what your resolution or plan, you should be able, somehow, to measure the results.  There will be good consequences.

Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a continuation of life with all the wisdom and understanding that our experiences have brought to us.

I must admit that I do not make New Year’s resolutions, but, on a daily basis, I do examine my heart and make life corrections according to God’s plan.  For, in my relationship with God I do not have to wait until a new year begins to make a new beginning.  With the rising of the sun, I can make a new start.  Repentant for my failure, I latch on to God’s strength and take my next faltering step knowing that:

“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3:22-23.

 At the age of twenty, Jonathan Edwards, a great preacher of the first half of the eighteenth century, made a long list of resolutions concerning every area of his life and ministry.  He reminded himself to reread his resolutions once each week, and he prayed this prayer.

              “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat Him by His grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable with His will, for Christ’s sake.”

 Jonathan Edward’s most impressive and important resolutions determined everything else he did the rest of his short life.  He wrote:

Resolution One—I will live for God.  Resolution Two—If no one else does, I still will.”

Let us, you and I, make that same commitment for 2018 understanding that without God’s help we can do nothing of worth.

With that kind of commitment, you can write it in your heart that every day, not just New Year’s Day, is the best day in the year.

With warmest wishes, I pray for you that this will be a crowning year in your life—that you will know God better—love Him more dearly–walk closely with Him—serve him more sincerely, and enjoy His great blessing.

 

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

THE GIFT GOES ON

It’s 10:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, December 26.  I know where many of you are.  You have bundled up the gifts you don’t like, the one that is the wrong size, or wrong color or just generally undesirable, and you have once again descended upon the mall.  Besides, there are those after Christmas sales you just can’t pass up.

I remember those days.  I couldn’t get out of the house fast enough.  I had to have wrapping paper, ribbon, and you name it.  No more!

My birthday is the 28th, so my brother wanted to go birthday shopping today, but I vetoed that.  My sole purpose for today is to eat leftovers and lie on the sofa, while my Christmas gifts remain stacked in their boxes in my bedroom floor—the wrong colors, the wrong sizes, and the things I certainly don’t need.  Like Scarlett, in “Gone with the Wind,” I will think about that tomorrow.  Maybe I will become a Re-Gifter.

Though I have trouble doing such a thing, I guess re-gifting has become a time-honored practice.  In fact, more than three in four Americans find re-gifting socially acceptable.

There are some rules to re-gifting.  Don’t re-gift among the same social circle or friends and extended family.  Let some time elapse before reusing the gift.  It must have value and always be new and in original packaging.  A re-gift has to come with the right intentions, fit the receiver’s style and be something you would likely have purchased on your own.

If I look long enough, I am sure I can find, in my house, enough new items in original packaging to fill my gift list for next year and years to come,.  But then, I fear I would leave my friends and family in the same predicament I am in.  What do I do with all these things I can’t use, don’t like, and won’t wear?

There is really only one gift that I can think of that is safe to re-gift to anyone.  It is a gift that is appropriate to every lifestyle, appealing to those in every culture, fitting for every age group, meaningful at every intellectual level, relevant in every time and place, and embraced by both the rich and the poor.

This gift, of which I speak, is of course, THE GIFT OF CHRISTMAS—THE GIFT OF LOVE—THE GIFT OF LIFE ETERNAL.

That’s what Christmas is all about.  That’s why Jesus came.  The beauty of the Christmas tree, the brightly wrapped gifts, and the heavily laden banquet table are only slight glimmers of the glorious gift, of which the angels sang.

The wonder of all of this is that you and I have been accorded the great privilege of giving this gift away.

Romans 6:23 says, “…the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”  

            Matthew 10:8 tells us, “…Freely you have received, freely give.”

If you have been a recipient of this marvelous, free gift of God, it is time to start giving it away.  Amazingly, no matter how often you give or to whom or how many you give, you will never run out.  The gift will never wear out or grow threadbare.  Its color will never fade or become unappealing.  It is a gift that keeps on giving.  You can safely re-gift it.

I love Sandi Patti’s song:

Don’t you love to get a present wrapped up in a Christmas bow

God gave each of us a present on that night so long ago.

It’s a gift that keeps on giving if our spirits can receive

It’s the secret joy of living if our hearts can just believe.

 

When your life is full of Christmas then your life is full of love.

You can give away the present that began with God above.

Just like ripples in the water the circles of our love extend.

What was started with the Father is a Gift that has no end.

AND THE GIFT GOES ON AND ON AND ON—

 Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

 

           

THE REAL MIRACLE OF CHRISTMAS

Unlike most of you, I have never carried a child in my womb, nor have I, except for a college biology film, ever witnessed the birth of a child.  I have no firsthand knowledge of this wondrous miracle, but I am fascinated by the facts.

At inception, the female egg is about the size of a grain of sand.  I believe that fertilization of the egg is the beginning of human life, and in that tiny, almost microscopic, mass lives the potential for greatness, for achievement, genius, tenderness, success, leadership, kindness, brilliance and the whole gamut of emotions.  Think of tiny fingers that will one day play Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto #3, feet that will run The Boston Marathon, a mind that will conquer cancer, a voice that will sway the multitude, and arms that will hold a loved one.

Friends speak of a difficult pregnancy and a hard prolonged labor, but they never say, “I wish I hadn’t done it.”  For when that child finally makes his debut appearance, howling in protest at his forced departure from a comfy, warm, safe abode, he may be red and wrinkled and uglier than lye soap, but that’s not what his mother sees.  He may not be a Gerber Baby, but his mother sees nothing but a miracle of life, a miracle of beauty when she first holds him close to her heart.

At this season, we are thinking, as we should be, about the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We are not sure when He was born.  Bible scholars, judging from historical events of the time, place His birth between 1 BC and 6 BC.  However, we are sure that He was not born on December 25, for shepherds would not have had their sheep in the fields in wintertime.  It is believed that He was born in September or October, meaning that He could have been conceived in December.

It is not important to pinpoint His exact date of birth.  The importance is in knowing that He came.  That is the miracle of Christmas.

We have a convoluted notion concerning the birth of Jesus.  Our beautiful Christmas cards portray Mary and Joseph in a neat open-air stable, a sweet, docile, haloed baby in a pristine manger filled with fresh, sweet hay, with well-groomed, well-behaved cattle in observance.

In reality, Jesus birth parallels the birth of that newborn in a hospital delivery room. There was blood and gore and pain and hard labor and sweat and tears.  This all took place in a non-sterile, dark cave, where the lowing, sweating cattle were stabled, and the acrid aroma of cow manure filled the air.  There was nothing romantic about His birth.

We have a hard time dealing with the humanity of Christ.  But the truth is, at His Father’s bidding, He left the glories of heaven becoming an embryo in the womb of a teenage, Galilean girl.  The Son of God submitted Himself to total oblivion for nine long months.  He relinquished His supernatural power and willingly allowed Himself to be hemmed in by time and space.

He was born a man-child, and as a man-child, he behaved as any newborn behaves.  He screamed when he was hungry.  He cried when He was wet.  Oh yes!  He did wet and mess His diapers.  Joseph, with babe in arms, walked the manure strewn floor, hoping disparately to calm the crying child, so everyone could get a little sleep.  At His birth, only Mary and Joseph knew He was God’s Son.  To all others, He was just another baby born into a poor family.  Only at the heralding of the angels did others become aware that this babe was special.

It is hard to understand that Jesus became as we are—human flesh and blood, but He did.  He did it for us.

Philippians 2:7-8 tells us, “…He set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!  Having become human, He stayed human.  It was an incredibly humbling process.  He didn’t claim special privileges.  Instead, He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”      

II Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”

The song says:

From a loving heavenly Father,

To a world that knew Him not

Came the man of sorrows, Christ the Lord.

In my wanderings He found me,

Bought my soul with His own blood,

Gave to me a peace the world could not afford.

 

Redeeming love, a love that knows no limit.

Redeeming love, a love that shall not die.

My soul shall sing throughout the endless ages,

With choirs extolling His great love on high.

This is the real miracle of Christmas!  His birth, His life lived on this earth as a man, His ministry, His crucifixion, and resurrection all result in His limitless, redeeming love for you and me.

You can experience His redeeming love. You can know the real miracle of Christmas.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

Christmas Past

CHRISTMAS PAST – RECYCLED

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL WHO READ THIS BLOG.  This has been a week of twenty-six hour days.  I have a wonderful idea for a new blog, but no time to develop it, so I will recycle a blog from Christmas gone by.  I do hope you will enjoy again the reminiscence from my childhood more than three-quarters of a century ago.

Please know that I pray for you the wonder of Christmas in Jesus Christ.  May His promised peace be a reality in your life.

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.

“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 enrobed 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.

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 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 were 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

 

 

THE TREES OF CHRISTMAS

I’m sitting here with a broad, silly grin on my face, because I have just finished decorating my Christmas tree.  I don’t know why that makes me so happy.  It just does!

I must admit that it becomes a little more difficult each year, and I was not quite sure I would be able to do it this time.  Because of my daily dosage of blood thinner, my doctor has warned me away from ladders, but you can’t trim a tree without a bit of climbing.  So I fudged a little, because my German angel couldn’t get to the top by himself.

The tree is gorgeous!  It is a bright, shining conglomeration of colors and shapes.  Alas!  It has no theme.  I have never cottoned to themed Christmas trees nor those decorated in only one color.  I just want to use all the stuff that I have collected over the years.  I am still using some of my Mom’s decorations.  They are old and faded and tarnished, but they are filled with sweet, sweet memories.  I say it again, “This tree makes me happy!”

In 1975, I was a brand new missionary in the country of Belgium.  Everything was good and exciting when I arrived in August, but as Christmas drew nearer and nearer, I just wanted to lie down and die.  I had never, in my thirty-nine years, been away from my family at Christmastime.  However, instead of giving in to despair, I determined to make Christmas as much like home as possible.  To that end, my roommate and I bought a large tree and put it in front of the French doors in our third-floor apartment.  Its beauty brought a bit of cheer to my aching heart.

We were cleaning house on December 23, when Ginny decided to vacuum behind the tree.  (You’d have to meet Ginny.)  All of a sudden, I heard a loud crash and a moan of despair.  My friend had knocked the tree over with the vacuum.  There on the floor lay the denuded tree among dried pine needles and broken ornaments.  There was no way to salvage it so, after I recovered from my urge to kill, we dragged it into the elevator and dumped it in the basement.  Through a series of unlikely, frustrating, even amusing events (another story to be told) we were able to replace the tree, and Christmas came and went without further calamity.

No one is quite sure how or when the Christmas tree originated, but we do know that, even in the middle ages, various cultures brought greenery into their homes in the winter time.  It symbolized life in those cold, dark days.

It is said that Queen Victoria’s beloved Albert introduced the tree into the English culture.

The story, yet unproven, that I love best and want to believe, is that of Martin Luther.

On a Christmas Eve, in the 1500’s, Martin Luther made his way home from vespers.  Walking through the snow-covered woods, he was struck by the beauty of the snow glistened trees.  Their branches, dusted with the soft white powder, shimmered in the moonlight and the twinkling stars overhead seemed to decorate the tips of the evergreens.

At home, he set up a small fir tree and decorated it with tiny candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ’s birth.  He told his children it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas.

I love the beauty of Christmas—the brilliant lights, the vivid colors, the tantalizing aroma of baked goods, the seraphic faces and shining eyes of expectant children, and the pile of gifts under the tree. But this beauty all wrapped up together is only a faint reflection of the beauty of Christ, who is Christmas.

I am continually blessed at this season when I realize that men and women, who deny Christ’s existence, who have totally rejected Him, who hate everything He stands for, continue to celebrate His birth.  O, they deny it, but by simply giving place to Christmas, they are confirming that HE IS!

So—for me—the Christmas tree is a symbol of life and light and hope that Jesus brought to this sad world at His advent.

Now, it occurs to me that another tree really plays the leading role in the story of Christmas, for the gift of Christ’s birth is incomplete without the magnificence of His sacrifice at Calvary.

1 Peter 2:24 says, “…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree (the cross), that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness…”  

 So, trim your trees, sing “O, Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” but while you celebrate Jesus” birth, celebrate, also, His death.  Let Him make Christmas complete in your life.

Remember the sun will come out tomorrow!