FOUND!

I hate when I wake up in the middle of a dream, feeling lost and confused, not knowing where I am or where I have been.  A few mornings ago I experienced just such an awakening.  I dreamed that I was lost for what seemed hours and then, finally, found myself driving home to visit my parents.   It was then that I felt my body heave an involuntary shudder as I remembered that Mom is gone, Dad’s days on this earth are probably short and the home I grew up in was sold three years ago.  It was at that moment that the cold shudder of feeling lost and alone gripped my heart.

Trusting in God’s Goodness has kept me steady even as:

I have fought tears back when I have seen something Mom would have liked . . .
when thinking of Dad alone and confused in a strange place . . . 
realizing that what was . . . has been lost forever.

The temptation to separate myself from the festivities of Christmas–knowing that Christmas will never be the same–has been especially difficult.   Yet it is in those moments of suffering profound loss, that God has faithfully shepherded my heart with these verses:

” . . . the people living in darkness have seen a great Light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a Light has dawned.” 
Matthew 4:16
 
“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
John 1:5
 

Even as despair has threatened I have been greatly comforted in remembering that,

No matter how dark life may appear, Christ’s Light dispels darkness like nothing else can.

Daily, He has drawn me into the Light of His Love, filling my heart to overflowing . . . not with a Christmas carol, but with the comfort of God’s boundless Grace in saving the lost:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
 
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.  
How precious did that Grace appear  
The hour I first believed.  
 
Through many dangers, toils and snares  
I have already come;’
Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far  
and Grace will lead me home.
 

As the Celebration of Christ’s Coming draws ever closer, God has faithfully spared me further heartache with the wondrous truth that God came down to seek and save the lost–you and me!  Jesus taught in parables about God’s pursuit of lost things in Luke 15.  I especially love the picture He painted as the love of a father was poured out when his son returned home:

” Bring the fatted calf and kill it.  Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.‘  So they began to celebrate.”  (verses 23-24)

If you find yourself struggling this Christmas . . . give thanks that you are not alone and lean into to the Light of His Love–He is so very worthy of our trust!

Yesterday I was able to talk to my dad on the phone for the first time since having to leave him in early November.  He is still very sick but there was Joy in his voice, so very grateful to be back in his apartment for Christmas.  Many thanks to those of you who have asked about and prayed for my dad.  Merry Christmas!

Rejoicing in Him Always!

The Blessing of “Hiccup Moments”~

To chose to laugh when things don’t go exactly the way we plan is a valuable skill to learn–especially when it involves what I like to refer to as, “hiccup moments.”* I experienced such a moment last week, and every time I think of it I still find myself with a cheesy grin on my face!  Here’s what happened:

I was attending my Bible study’s special Christmas Luncheon with about ninety women and 40+ children.  Prior to coming together for lunch the children sang several Christmas songs for the adult class, concluding the program with a rousing rendition of “Go Tell It On The Mountain” (one of my personal favorites.)  Their performance was loud and heartfelt, putting us all in an especially festive mood as we went into the multipurpose room for lunch.

One of the contributions I offer to the yearly Christmas Luncheon is a Birthday Cake for Jesus.  It takes a bit of planning and preparation but it serves as a beautiful reminder of the true meaning of Christmas:

Birthday Cake for Jesus

One cake iced with white icing.
Washable plastic holly or other greenery to go around the cake
21 red birthday candles (hard to find but worth the effort)
Any other relevant addition you have that tells part of the Christmas Story–I have a plastic star and a small baby in a manger I place in the middle.

This was the second year that the children were part of the luncheon (in previous years they had their own party) so they eagerly gathered around as I started lighting the candles.  I had planned to have some of the older kids light the candles as I talked about what each part of the cake symbolized.  However, I only had one of those lighter wands so I decided to light the candles myself, as quickly as I could, while talking about:

The white icing ~ Represents the Purity of Christ
The greenery ~ Represents Life Everlasting for all who trust in Jesus
The 21 red birthday candles ~ Remind us of the Royalty of Christ and the Twenty-One Centuries that have passed since Jesus walked on the earth 

Well, the candle lighting went more slowly than I planned and when I had about 12 of them lit I realized the lighter wand was running out of gas.  I grabbed one of the lit candles and asked a couple of the older kids to do the same on the other side of the cake to finish lighting them all.  I was down to the last candle when I noticed the littlest children in front of the cake were looking at me with slightly worried expressions on their faces.  I glanced down to see that one of the silk pieces of holly decorating the front of the cake had caught fire (hence the requirement for plastic that isn’t so flammable!)  I quickly tried to blow out the growing flames of the holly (as did several of the children) and suddenly it got very quiet in the room . . . the candles were all blown out and the cake was, quite dramatically splattered with the red candle wax across the top!

The children looked at me wide-eyed and stunned as I surveyed the damaged cake with lopsided candles that were too melted down to re-light.  I swallowed hard, and in the next moment found myself laughing as I heard these words come out of my mouth:  “Normally the candles would stay lit as we sang, ‘Silent Night’ and then ‘Happy Birthday to Jesus.’  Today we are going to use our imaginations as we think about Jesus as the Light of the world and sing our songs to Him.”  And that is exactly what we did!

Reflecting back, the memory of what Christ did was not lost, if anything, I think the messiness made it all the more precious.  The Christ Child was born in a barn filled with hay and smelly animals to parents who were tired and doing the best they could. There were no red candles, no greenery surrounding the feeding trough that held the baby.  Even so, it was an evening of divine mystery that caused the heavens to open up as angels sang and shepherds left their flocks to see the newborn King.

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright
   round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
   sleep in heavenly peace,
   sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night, shepherds quake at the sight;
   glories stream from heaven afar,
   heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

I have probably made forty or fifty Birthday Cakes for Jesus and have enjoyed the wonder of family, friends and strangers gathered to sing and savor those wondrous moments.  Yet for me, seeing the worried looks of those little children turn to wonder as we sang, was the best reminder of God’s Perfect Plan of Redemption.   Sometimes we have good intentions and get upset when our ideas do not pan out.  What I am learning is that there are times when we take ourselves too seriously . . . that blessing abounds in those “hiccup moments” as we learn to trust God more.

All to His Glory!

*A “hiccup moment” can be determined by answering the following question: “In the light of eternity, how big is this?”  If the answer is, that it is truly not all that important, then that can be referred to as a “hiccup moment.”

The Clean Slate of a New Year Beckons . . . .

I am always grateful for that special window of time, when the old year is nearly finished and the clean slate of a new year beckons.  Just the anticipation of entering into that season fills me with a quiet HOPE of fresh beginnings.  To keep this time productive, I resist the temptation of focusing on regrets or successes.  Instead,  I prayerfully ask God for a teachable heart as Psalm 139:23, 24 guides me in this process:  

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.”

2012 was a challenging year in many ways, which perhaps is why focusing on Deuteronomy in my Journey Notes  in recent months has been so meaningful.  Yesterday, I was struck by Moses’ insights regarding the necessity of discipline throughout life.  As he prepared the Israelites to leave the desert after forty years of wandering, Moses reminded them of how God’s loving discipline had readied them to finally cross the Jordan:

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you  in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.  He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna . . . to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.  (Verses 2,3)

Learning humility through God’s loving discipline (not humiliation) is essential at various junctures in our lives to teach us to rely on Him for our every need.  Deuteronomy 6:18 establishes our reward in keeping Him central in our minds and hearts,  

“Do what is right and good in the LORD’s sight, so that it may go well with you . . . .”

Humanly, I would like to think that after thirty-plus years of serving Christ, that I would be independent and not have to bother Him with my needs.  But with every challenge and disappointment as well as in savoring those special joys that make our lives uniquely ours,  I am increasingly aware that I need Him more than ever . . . which is exactly His plan!

In light of having our seven grandchildren visiting almost daily over the holidays, this is (in part) what I wrote yesterday in in my Journey Notes as a response to the wisdom of Deuteronomy:

“How precious it has been to have all of our grandchildren together for Christmas!  Spanning from age thirteen to three, it has been a delight to watch them interact as loving cousins.  Not once have I heard a crude or rude remark between them during the almost two weeks we have been together!  (This does not mean there were no flare-ups between siblings, there certainly were!)  But as I have been reading Deuteronomy I have been grateful for the insights given as to the value of discipline and on-going training that went into preparing the Israelites to cross the Jordan.  I am grateful to know that the outward love our grandchildren demonstrate for one another is founded on the forge of godly discipline and on-going training.  I pray Lord that you will continue to keep our family humbly reliant on Your Spirit and Your Word to keep us on the straight path.”

That same loving discipline (that of necessity includes learning humility) is essential to your continued spiritual growth as well as my own.  That is why I invite you to join me as the clean slate of a new year beckons . . . seek God’s wisdom and perspective on the past years regrets and successes.  Prayerfully thank Him for His plan for your life as you commit to enter into the new year increasingly reliant on Him.

All to His Glory!

Holy Love

Christmas morning, Love divine;

born a Savior, glory shines!

He came with purpose, to save the lost;

amazing Grace paid an awful cost.

Blessed are all who embrace the Savior,

Holy Love . . . there is none greater!

Joy-filled Love, redemption ours;

Grace-filled manger led to a Cross.

Do you know Him, can you see?

He came for sinners like you and me.

Holy Love how great the sound,

sing His praises all around!

“For to us a Child is born,
    to us a Son is given,
    and the government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
 Of the greatness of His government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over His kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.”   (Isaiah 9:6,7)

All to His Glory!

A God of Celebration . . .

One of the things I love about God is that He is a God of celebration.  I marvel at all the ways God prescribed creative and meaningful celebration for the Israelites during their forty year wilderness treck.  (Check out Exodus after the holidays to see for yourself.)  Celebration in the Bible served to remind God’s people and future generations of His faithfulness.  I suppose that was the motivation behind writing “De-Schlucking” Christmas: Focus on HOPE!    To “de-schluck” Christmas is really an effort to simplify and creatively bring out the true meaning of the celebration of Christ’s birth.  I found that in my “de-schlucking” effort the process was very personal.  Were you to come to my home you would see some rather oddball things displayed–like a palm tree and a red apple on my Christmas tree.  This is where the personal part comes in, because those things serve as reminders of God’s kindness to us in the past.  That is why no one should ever attempt to “de-schluck” someone else’s celebration– it’s personal!

For me, the most meaningful celebration in our family takes place after our Christmas Day dinner.   The meal varies (I think we are eating Caribbean this year) but dessert is always the same:  Birthday Cake for Jesus.  Now I can see many of you rolling your eyes with disappointment at the suggestion of a “schlucky” birthday cake as the grand finale of your Christmas dinner.  Just hear me out!

~ BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR JESUS ~

  • Any size or shape cake frosted with white icing  (White Icing represents the Purity of Christ)
  • 20 red birthday candles  (Serve to remind us of the twenty centuries that have passed since Jesus was born, the red stands for His royalty and, of course, when lit we are reminded that He is the Light of the world.)
  • Washable greenery such as holly or evergreens to put around the sides of the cake (Reminds us of Life Everlasting that is promised to all who look to Him as Lord and Savior.)
  • Anything else that serve as a reminder of the Christmas Story

As we light the candles we review the meanings of the white icing, the twenty red candles and the greenery.  Once the candles are all lit we sing Silent Night and then Happy Birthday Jesus.  I have enjoyed sharing this tradition with many groups, young and old.  My favorite was after caroling in our village while living in England.  The tradition in the village was to serve oxtail soup (a hearty finish after being out so long in the cold.)   When we brought out the cake and made the presentation they all loved it.  When I think of that night, I still have to smile . . . .

Do you have a tradition that holds special meaning for you at Christmas?  Please share so it can be passed on . . .

All to His Glory!

Just For Fun!

One of the things I enjoy about Christmas is all the crazy fun we have!  For us, the celebrating starts Christmas Eve when we attend our church’s evening service and then goes into the new year to Epiphany (January 6.)   In many countries, Epiphany is the day people exchange gifts; calling it “Three Kings Day” in commemoration of when the three kings gave Jesus their gifts.   I didn’t know until several years ago that “the 12 days of Christmas” are the days between Christmas Day and Epiphany.  Since then, we have given ourselves permission to “celebrate”  during that time period in all sorts of crazy ways.  One of my favorite memories is of when our church did a “Gong Show” on one of those “12 days” years ago.  Also, I have always appreciated when our church has done a special dinner or concert on Epiphany because it’s such a lovely way to conclude the Season.

I thought I would share some of the traditions we will be doing and would love to hear about some of yours!

  • After the Christmas Eve Service our kids, grandkids and any friends that want to stop at our house (for about an hour or hour and a half) for appetizers and eggnog or spiced cider. We do stockings then and turn on the fireplace to relax a bit and enjoy each others company.
  • Our special Birthday Cake for Jesus:  You will need a cake iced in white icing (the white represents the purity of Christ); 21 candles (red if you can get them) representing the 21 centuries that have passed since Jesus walked on this earth and the red representing His royalty.  Also, look for some plastic greenery (I use holly) that is washable to place around the base of the cake-representing life-everlasting.  We usually do this after Christmas dinner but you can do it any time from Christmas Eve to Epiphany.  (Do it every day if you just want to be crazy!)  Just remember to go over with your guests what each piece symbolizes so they will appreciate what it all represents.   We usually sing Silent Night and then Happy Birthday when the candles are lit.
  • We like to take drives at night to see the Christmas lights in neighborhoods around us because it is nice to get out and see what others are doing to celebrate Christ’s birth.  We are hoping to take our Grandboys up to see the lights of Longwood Gardens one evening-their parents too if they want to join us!  Check your local paper to see what’s going on in your area and take advantage of them.
  • We also hope to invite friends in at least one evening to play games and share fellowship together.
  • This year I’ve collected a number of pine cones to wire and then will have our grandsons over to help put peanut butter and bird seed on them.   Then we will hang them from the trees in our backyard for the birds.   “Letting heaven and nature sing!”

Enjoy the Season to His Glory!

Kathie