December 19, 2016

Savoring Christmas

Curled up in my favorite comfortable armchair and carefully sipping a cup of hot spiced tea, listening to Christmas music in the glow of the Christmas tree lights, is the way I most enjoy the season of Jesus Christ’s birth. 

In the glow of those sparkling tree lights is the Nativity that sits on our hearth, that small and cherished visual of the Christmas story which has graced our home for over twenty five years. Joseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus are surrounded by animals, shepherds, wise men, and angels.

Above the hearth hang the stockings for our family. All of our names are monogrammed in a stylish script on these beautiful stockings that invite us to fill them with goodies by Christmas morning.

Traditions are a treasured part of our Christmas celebrations each year. The cookies we bake, the candy we make, the cards we send, the gifts we buy, the Christmas Eve service we attend, and the family gatherings and parties we go to are the activities we participate in to enjoy and observe this special time of year. Much time is spent furiously rushing from one Christmas activity to another - between school, work, church, and home.

Somewhere in the mix of all these obligations and activities, we find our schedules growing fuller and our days busier and busier. Next thing we know, each Christmas season becomes a time of stress and overwhelming busyness and we can feel like we are on a fast, spinning merry-go-round that won’t slow down. 

If we are going to savor and reflect on the meaning of Christmas as we should, we must slow down. We will enjoy our celebration of Christmas more when we find a balance between activity and Nativity. I have learned that I cannot be involved in every program, activity, and every party, and must make choices to limit the busyness by only selecting certain ones.

The Christmas season becomes the most difficult time to be still. If we don’t intentionally take the time to slow down and be still, Christmas will pass by in a flurry of activity, and not enough Nativity.

Will we take the time to pause and with awe remember this miracle of Christ’s birth? Will we make the time to rejoice in knowing God’s plan to come to earth in the person of His only Beloved Son Jesus, was for me…and for you? Will we think about that Holy night in Bethlehem while we sit in our comfortable chairs listening to carols in the glow of the Christmas tree lights?  Will we open our Bibles again to Luke 2 and read how a Savior was born?

If we want there to be more Nativity than activity, we will pause…and savor Christmas.

Luke 2:11-12 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

December 9, 2016

When Life Is Not a Christmas Card

In our homes with lights aglow, stockings hung with care and cookies baking in the oven, our lives can look like a Christmas card. But sometimes it looks like something else. It can look harsher, colder, and even very lonely. Sometimes, Christmas can be hard. It doesn’t look like a Christmas card, or a happily ending Christmas movie. 

What do we do when life is hard and we don’t know what to do? Hold tight to our faith and keep our trust in God. 

Sometimes, there are those things we can never fix and things that we can never change. Sometimes, there are circumstances and trials we’ll never understand, those things we’ll never know the reason why. Sometimes, we face situations that will test our faith and test our trust in God. 

Faith is trusting that God is there
And knowing He is always in control.
Faith is staying close to Him
No matter what comes your way,
And believing He will meet your every need.

Faith is knowing that He loves you
And will never leave you or forsake you.
Faith is believing that in all things
He has a purpose and a plan.

Faith is knowing 
You don’t have to understand it all
To keep your trust in Him.

Isaiah 41:10
So do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

December 4, 2016

Christmas Caroling

Each Christmas since my sister and her husband were killed in a car crash a few years ago, I have shared a Christmas memory related to them. The first story was The Christmas Jar, their secret mission to take the change they saved each year and leave it on the doorstep of a family in need without their knowing who it came from. Last year I shared The Snowflake Ornament from Donna and her class at church and how special it is and that it is the first ornament I put on my tree each year.

Now that another Christmas has rolled around, I will share another Christmas memory of my sister, Donna and her husband, Dewayne.

I was single and in my early twenties and Donna and Dewayne were the closest family I had. I went to “their” church. I helped Donna with her class of girls.

At Christmas time a group from our church (in Kentucky) decided to go Christmas caroling. The previous year we had gone to the hospital and just caroled in the hallways. This time we decided to go to some of the homes of families from our church.

It was a cold evening so we were bundled up and I remember gathering on the church bus and pulling our coats and scarves tight around us because it was cold and the bus heater, well, it didn’t do much heating.

Donna had stayed home. She had been baking cookies, making candies and promised all of us hot chocolate at her house after the caroling. We thought about her hot chocolate and desserts all evening long.

Dewayne, my brother-in-law, was known for his good singing voice. Not trained, no music degree, just a natural tenor voice and he enjoyed singing with anyone that would take him up on a duet or trio or quartet. That was back in the days when some churches, especially in Kentucky, still had Singings. Do you remember those?

Someone in the group had made copies of the songs we were to sing and we practiced a few at the church before heading out for our caroling.

When we started to practice Away in a Manger we all began to sing the song, but something didn’t sound right. Everyone but Dewayne was singing it one way, and Dewayne was singing it a different way and it was …wrong! We told him so.

He said,” No, this is how it goes.” We said “No, you are singing it wrong.”

He said, “Then you haven’t heard the other version.”

“What other version?” we asked him.

He convinced us there was another version out there, but for that night, he would sing it the “traditional” way most of us know.

The evening went smoothly as we made stops at homes throughout the town and sang our Christmas songs to church families who stepped outside to listen and neighbors who heard our singing and also came outside and shivered in the cold while we sang.

As the evening grew late we headed over to Donna and Dewayne’s house where a group of cold carolers rushed in to crowd around the fire place and were handed cups of hot chocolate by my sister. Her Christmas cookies and fudge were delicious and the conversation continued to be about how Dewayne sang Away in a Manger the wrong way.

He still assured us, his way was not wrong.

Several years later, Christmas music was playing on the radio and a set of Anne Murray songs began, and don’t you know, she started to sing Away in a Manger…wrong! She sang it the way Dewayne had sang it all those years ago.

There was another version!

I called Donna to tell her I had heard the over version and that Dewayne was right! Dewayne came on the phone, “Hey Sis, I told you so!” He always addressed me that way, “Hey Sis.” Just like Donna did. 

November 29, 2016

The Class Christmas Gift Exchange

As a child growing up, my mom and I loved the library in the small town we lived in outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. You could borrow books for a month at a time and we both carried out stacks of books and then my mom would say, “Don’t go through them real fast, take your time, make them last.”

We didn’t have many books in our possession in our home, but we certainly enjoyed the vast selection at our library.

When I was just a little girl learning to read, one of the library books my mom read to me was A Little Princess. The classic story of Sara Crewe and her escapades in the attic of the girls’ school were exciting and vivid adventures in my mind.

A few years later when I learned to read well, and my mother was recovering from pneumonia, I borrowed the book again from the library and read it to her. She said no one had ever read a book to her and she was quite soothed by the evening readings while she rested. I finished the book and returned it to the library, admiring its beautiful cover and pictures inside. I wished I had my own copy of this wonderful book.

In my class at school that year we exchanged names on folded pieces of paper for the Christmas Party. Every year there was a class gift exchange and Christmas cookies and punch on the last day of school before the holiday break.

I wish I could remember what I bought for the person whose name I drew, but my memory has failed me on that. But what I do remember is the gift I received. When it was my turn to open my gift and was opening the package in my hands, and as the wrapping paper slipped away and the ribbon fell to the floor, I saw something very familiar in my hands. My gift was a beautiful copy of A Little Princess. 

The girl who drew my name called out to me, “My mom picked that out, I’m sorry she got a book, I know you are probably disappointed it is just a book…”

Was she ever wrong, I was thrilled! I was holding in my hands my very own copy of A Little Princess. I knew what I would do over Christmas vacation. I would read my book. When I was too young to read, my mom had read it to me. And then I read it to her. This time, I could read and savor my very own copy of this beautiful book. And keep it and treasure it for years to come. It was the best ever class Christmas gift exchange!