Monday, November 29, 2010

Giving Thanks

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. Most all our family gathered around the table this year. Everyone is a year older, but here we are all together on this earth. That alone is enough to be thankful for. But we have more. We have joy and laughter, stories and memories, good food, and love.

Dominic and Stacia arrived from D.C. for a few days. The family comes together when they are here. I wonder if in every family there is one person or couple who unites the others and makes family gatherings fun. Stacia wanted to help me cook and when she is here, cooking isn't so lonely and tedious. Liana also joined in to make the rolls. Dominic set up his laptop in the kitchen and he taught Arielle how to edit video. We had a fun day-before-Thanksgiving.
Arielle, as always, entertained the little ones. She is sensitive to include each one and makes sure they all have fun. Sometimes there is squabbling when cousins get together, but Arielle is a great mediator.

I always think of this scripture every year when we sit down to dinner. I wish I had a picture of all of us around the table. I read this years ago when we were going through a hard time and I took it as a promise from God that blessings would come. It has been fulfilled. Okay, we don't have sheep and cattle, but read the deeper meaning!

"May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace. May our granaries be full, providing all kinds of produce, may our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields. May our cattle be heavy with young, suffering no mishap or failure in bearing. May there be no cry of distress in our streets. Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall. Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!" Psalm 144:12-15.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Christmas on the Radio

Many years ago when I was a single mom with little ones living in St. Louis, I rented a small apartment. Our complex of only about a dozen one-story units arranged in a horseshoe shape allowed us to become somewhat close to our neighbors, whether we wanted to or not. An elderly couple lived a few doors down and on summer evenings their front door would be open and you could get a glimpse of them sitting in their recliners. And you couldn't miss hearing them. One or both of them must have been hearing impaired because the TV or radio blasted out noise all evening long. It was so loud I could hear every word and every song of The Lawrence Welk Show that they seemed to love. This couple was a mystery to me, so far removed from my life. I couldn't imagine getting old and staying home listening to the radio or TV all night.

Tonight I thought about that couple. Fred is working so hard at his three jobs that he is exhausted by early evening. Usually he collapses and falls asleep before we even begin to get ready for bed. I come in and turn off the lights and the blaring TV. But this night he is still awake and it's not the TV that's on. He's brought an old radio into the bedroom and he is listening to Christmas music. The girls and I join him, talking about the old songs, singing along. Every year Fred listens to this particular station in the car because right around Thanksgiving it plays a 24 hour Christmas music marathon. We know all the words to these songs. Sometimes I wish we could hear a few new ones.

Tonight we listen to Andy Williams, a young Michael Jackson, Jimmy Durante, Karen Carpenter, John Lennon, Frank Sinatra...Neil Diamond--finally someone who is still alive! We laugh about that. Fred is covered up to his neck in big blankets. He's cold. He's tired. He says, "I'm getting to be an old man."

Fred loves Christmas. Earlier in the day he put up the lights outside and set up our lighted angel in front of the house. He stopped at a hardware store and bought a battery operated snow globe that blows the "snow" around while Burl Ives sings songs from the old cartoon, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

The mystery of aging is solved. It's us! Just slower and more tired. It's knowing what's important in life, sitting with your spouse listening to Lawrence Welk on summer nights or laughing with your family and singing old Christmas songs. It's being satisfied with small joys.

As I wrote earlier, we want to celebrate the holidays in a God-honoring way. Do we totally reject the secular trappings and devote ourselves solely to the sacred? I think about that tonight. Yes, we are very aware that Christmas is the day God sent the greatest gift to mankind, the gift of his Son who would be the Savior of the world. But Christmas is also a family tradition, one we have kept since childhood. It is a time for reminiscing about the years that came before. I am thinking of small boys in pjs watching the Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer cartoon on TV. This was before you could buy the video and watch it whenever you wanted. You had to wait for it to come at Christmas! I think of the only time my mother ever sang. We kids were sitting on the couch with her in our little house in Arizona and she was teaching us the old carols. She sang "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and I've loved that song ever since. I think of my little girls lying on the floor beside the lit-up Christmas tree that is towering above them, watching Daddy's electric trains go around and around, lost in their imagination.

A new song comes on that I've never heard before. It's the Trans-Siberian Orchestra playing "Christmas Canon Rock." Liana catches my eye. She recognizes one of her favorite pieces of music, Pachelbel's Canon in D. This is a jazzed-up version on an electric guitar, but we are still mesmerized and silent as we listen. It's magical.

God is honored when we think back and smile on the rich, full life he has given us and when we gather our loved ones around us making new memories that they will someday treasure.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Goat for Christmas

It's the Christmas season again. How did that happen so fast? We've been having a lot of discussion lately with our grown kids about celebrating Christmas, cutting back on gift-buying, getting back to the the meaning of the holiday and avoiding the materialism. What pleases God in celebrating the birth of his son?

Years ago Fred and I sponsored a child through World Vision. So we continue to be on that organization's mailing list. We recently received a gift catalog. I thumbed through it and set it aside. The purpose of it is that you buy gifts for others, but they don't go to that person. The gifts go to poor villages in places like Zimbabwe, El Salvador, or Bangladesh. The gifts you can buy are farm animals, clothing, fruit trees, seeds, medicine, mosquito nets, clean water, tuition, or sewing machines. These things help to keep people healthy, feed them, or help them make a living.

I came across the catalog again and tossed it in the trash...but then pulled it out again. I was going to tell Fred I think we should give something. Fred would agree, but then I realized it had to be more personal. Instead of Fred buying me a gift for Christmas as he always does, I told him I wanted something from this catalog. He then decided he wanted the same from me.

The girls and I have since looked through the catalog many times and talked about what gift we would give. All the gifts are so necessary and needed. But I like the idea of giving an animal. Which one? After much discussion, we decided on a goat and chickens. The goat could provide milk and cheese and the chickens would provide eggs. They can forage and not require a lot of expense to feed. Their fertilizer will be good for a vegetable garden.

Now there would be people who would say this is nonsense. Will our money really go to buy a goat? I think World Vision is a trusted organization. Our church has some sort of relationship with them and has even adopted a village in Mali. People I actually know have gone to Mali and worked in that village.

It's a small thing. But we can pass on gifts this year and hopefully make one small bit of difference for a family in a village far away.

Anyone else so inspired, check out the website:

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


It's the official start of the Christmas season at our house! Saturday night Fred made the first fire in the woodstove and we all retreated to our cozy little room in the basement and watched Christmas videos. The girls chose "Santa Clause 2" and "Elf." Silly, funny movies that we have seen a dozen times yet they never grow old because they are part of our family's tradition. When we hear the familiar lines and music, it means Christmas is coming.

We needed this. After the foray into the medical world of uncertainty and fear, we needed familiarity and sameness. We needed each other. This is not a same-old, boring routine we do every year. We rejoice to do it all again! Another year of life! Another Christmas!

The best part of watching movies over and over again is that you can do other things and you won't miss the story. Liana had her Build-A-Bear toys out and she was lost in her own world with them. Arielle was making a Christmas craft, painting and decorating a wooden ornament. Fred was roasting hot dogs over the fire, and I was hand-sewing the binding on Liana's quilt. I'm amazed how working my fingers brings me peace. Generations of women before me have found this gentle rhythm relaxing, I'm sure.

Yet in the midst of our tranquil evening, I am not quite at rest. Two friends of mine are going through terrifying ordeals. One, a mom of two young girls, was just diagnosed with breast cancer. For another, her husband has a debilitating muscle or nerve disorder, and he is going downhill fast. Doctors can't figure out what is wrong, and this night she is at the hospital with him. So much pain and fear in this world. The carefully ordered lives we create for ourselves are often shaken apart.

Our pastor says we try so hard to get our kingdoms not to shake that we neglect the unshakable kingdom. We are to hold fast to Christ because everything else shakes, and all will be lost except what is tethered to God's grace in Christ.

My son Jonathan and I had a talk the other night about suffering in the world. He paraphrased the idea of this verse, and he is so right. "For I consider that the suffering of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Romans 8:18.

Scripture says all of creation, including us, groan inwardly as we wait for redemption and the end to the pain of this world. We can't even imagine what comes next. Our greatest earthly joys are only a hint of what is to come. In the meantime, "Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:35-39.

So we live in the moment, trusting God, and thanking him for what we have.

Narnia Quote

"Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.

"I am dying of thirst," said Jill.

"Then drink," said the Lion.

"May I--could I--would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

"Will you promise not to--do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.

"I make no promise," said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. "Do you eat girls?" she said.

"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.

"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.

"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."

"There is no other stream," said the Lion."

C.S. Lewis from The Silver Chair.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Another Storm

An update on Fred: He came home on a Friday, just two days after surgery. We had a peaceful, relaxing weekend at home with Fred resting. (Unusual for him.) He even stayed home on Monday. But then Tuesday went back to work at 6am. At 4:30 when I came in to cook for Alpha, I tried to persuade him to go home and he finally did about 5:30.

In the middle of the night Fred woke up sick. I felt the heat radiating from him and took his temperature. He had a fever. It did not drop in the morning, and by noon it was 103 degrees. At my second call to the surgeon's office, the nurse said to come to the ER. As we drove there, I suddenly realized I hadn't told anyone and NO ONE was praying for us! Everyone thinks Fred is fine, I thought! We were on our own. But God knows our situation.

Fortunately, there was no infection in his incisions, internal or external. After several hours in the hospital and numerous tests for other issues, the doctors concluded he has a bacterial infection from the high doses of antibiotics he had prior to surgery that killed off the good bacteria that usually keeps this bad one in check. So another antibiotic targeting that particular one is prescribed. Fred is better now.

It is so easy to give in to fear. As my dear husband lay in the hospital bed appearing so weak and frail, all I could do was pray. What will happen? What should we do? Oh, I was scared, I admit. My faith is strong, but God never promised us a leisurely life without difficulty. I thought back to a sermon given by a guest speaker at our church just a couple of weeks before. I will write some of the basic points because it was a powerful message.

Paul Tripp is a dynamic speaker and prolific author. We are fortunate that he lives in the city near us and he occasionally comes to our church. This day he spoke on Mark 6:45-52.

In this passage Jesus had just fed the 5,000 with the five loaves and two fish and the people were all going home. Jesus told his disciples to get in the boat and go to the other side of the lake. Jesus wanted to go up to the mountain to pray.

"When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and Jesus was alone on the land. And he saw they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought he was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, 'Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid,' And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. They were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened."

Here are my notes from Paul Tripp: How does God build faith in us? Jesus crafted experiences, difficulties for his disciples, and then revealed his glory. In this passage, his disciples were in a difficult moment and not because of sin. They were in that particular situation because Jesus had told them to be there. They were there by the will of God. So why does God choose difficult moments for us? God knows we are very self-reliant. Jesus takes us beyond our strength and wisdom because he loves us. God takes us to the end of ourselves. Difficulties are not just for God to bail us out, but part of his plan. God doesn't want just circumstantial rescue for his followers. He doesn't want just to make life more "doable" for us. Our difficulty + His glory = God's Grace. In a moment of difficulty, do we see ghosts and become more terrorized and fearful?

Jesus got into the boat and declared his sovereignty. "It is I." The scripture says the disciples were utterly amazed. That's not complimentary because it wasn't faith. Why didn't they understand? They had not been learning their lessons. Why were they unprepared? Why do we panic in difficulty? Do we have a life of expectancy, hope and courage? Or do we give in to fear? It says the disciples' hearts were hardened, resistant to change, just like a stone.

Jesus has invaded our lives. Are we too satisfied? Do we not long for greater spiritual growth because we want calm seas and no wind? Then we don't want grace. Paul Tripp ended his message with this thought: Hold on to the gift of Jesus until he radically transforms you into his image.

I have been thinking there must be a balance between contentment with what you have and a selfish grip on what you have so that you resist any change in circumstances. Okay, that describes me. Keep it all the same and I'm happy with that. But then I do want desperately to know him more deeply and see his glory and grace. In that case, I am inviting difficulty. But also inviting Jesus to join me on that journey. He is always there and I am always delighted in how he reveals himself to me and lets me know he is there. Why do we so quickly forget all the miracles he's done in our lives in the past? I need to keep my heart from being hard.

We got home from the hospital last Wednesday night and I had an e-mail from Liana's Sunday School teacher. She said she and her husband had been praying for Fred that day and was everything okay? This, after I had sent out e-mails days before to everyone saying Fred was fine and recovering. But God put it on her heart to pray and she sensed something was up. So when I thought we were all alone at the hospital, we were not. God is gracious to us.