Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Looking Forward

"Till now the Lord has helped us." I Samuel 7:12.

"Through poverty, through wealth, through sickness, through health, at home, abroad, on the land, on the sea, in honour, in dishonour, in perplexity, in joy, in trial, in triumph, in prayer, in temptation...the Lord has helped us!

"We delight to look down a long avenue of trees. It is delightful to gaze from end to end of the long vista, a sort of verdant temple, with its branching pillars and its arches of leaves; even so look down the long aisles of your years, at the green boughs of mercy overhead, and the strong pillars of lovingkindness and faithfulness which bear up your joys. Are there no birds in yonder branches singing? Surely there must be many, and they all sing of mercy.

"Yet we also look forward, we are not yet at the end, There is still a distance to be traversed. More trials, more joys; more temptations, more triumphs; more prayers, more answers; more toils, more strength; more fights, more victories; and then come sickness, old age, disease, death. Is it over now? No! there is more yet...the face of Jesus, the society of saints, the glory of God, the fulness of eternity, the infinity of bliss. O be of good courage, believer..." (Charles Spurgeon.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Glimpses of Christmas

Preparing for Christmas was rushed and joyless...until my friend asked me to watch her children while she visited her husband in the hospital. Her girls and mine had a wonderful time rolling and cutting and baking and decorating cookies. I enjoyed their fun. This set the tone for the next few days.
I couldn't find peace...until Christmas Eve when I was dropping something off at another friend's house, in a hurry as always, and when she opened her door, I saw she had a cup of hot tea ready, along with oat bran muffins, all set up in her dining room. Those brief few moments are a special memory of this Christmas. Her house was so warm and inviting, and I found rest in quiet conversation with a dear friend.
I couldn't find joy...until we went to our Christmas Eve service at church and found some friends who only come once a year. This family has suffered much in the past few months, but here they all were, dressed in holiday finery, singing out the carols with all their hearts.
I couldn't find contentment until Christmas morning when I realized my daughter Arielle was right. It's all about family. All our kids arrived, the big kids and the little kids, together with all the laughter and stories and feasting and celebrating. Of course, we longed for the missing ones: Dominic and Stacia were in Chicago, Kelsey and Seth in Minnesota. And our extended family in North Carolina and Georgia. But phone calls late into the night connected me to my brother and mother. How blessed we are to have so many loved ones, near and far.
Sometimes I think I expect too much from life. This quote from C.S. Lewis sums it up. "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."
And yet, God gives us plenty of experiences in this world to enjoy. And the best is yet to come.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Magic

Early this morning I was sitting in my darkened living room with only the tree lights glowing bemoaning the fact that Christmas has no magic for me this year. Why? The suffering of my friends weighs heavily and Fred is working all the time and comes home exhausted, just to eat and go to bed. We are too busy, too much to do in too little time. Everyone is on edge.

So if I focus on the true meaning of Christmas--Immanuel, God with us--I see Jesus as our only hope in a world of pain and hard work. The joy he brings is the only kind of lasting joy. I know this, but I'm having a difficult time getting perspective this year. This morning I am not feeling very spiritual.

I look at the tree and remember Christmases past. The carols and the lights surrounding the holiday allow children to indulge in the world of their imaginations, where children long to dwell. But we parents make them concentrate on the real world of school work and chores and responsibility. Usually at Christmas we briefly join them in their fantasy world where Santa and reindeer live at the North Pole and an adopted elf searches for his roots and a couple tries to escape Christmas only to find true meaning by sacrificing their needs for others. (These all come from movies we've watched recently.) Fred sets up his trains and he and the girls lie on the floor and watch them go around the tree and imagine living in that tiny village.

The girls and I were shopping for toys for the little ones in our family. After we chose our gifts I asked Arielle and Liana if they wanted to walk through the doll section of this big store. No, they said. Didn't they want to just look at the dolls? No. It's so very sad. Arielle wants no toy for Christmas. She hasn't for awhile. And this will probably be Liana's last year for Christmas toys. They are both growing up.

I remember my middle-school years when there was no more jumping out of bed early in the morning to see what Santa had left for me. In 7th grade I got white go-go boots (that I very much desired) and a warm sweater. Great gifts, but not thrilling. It was hard to face reality for a child who often lived in an imaginary world.

Late at night on Christmas Eve this year Fred and I will not be arranging toys on the sofa to be discovered at dawn by excited little girls in their pjs. Gifts now are more practical and sophisticated. As I sadly contemplate this, I think of what my wise daughter Arielle said a few weeks ago. She told me the best part of Christmas for her is not the gifts but the family gathering all together. She loves the crazy antics of her brothers and playing with the youngest ones and the laughter and loud voices and the special food and sitting in a circle watching each other open gifts one by one. The girls have both enjoyed making special gifts for their siblings and nieces and nephews and are eagerly anticipating giving these gifts. I need to learn from my daughters.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Perfect Tree

Once again we chose a very cold day to go to the tree farm in search of our Christmas tree. Another Christmas season we are PRIVILEGED to plan, shop, and decorate. As we see friends ill and families suffering, I am learning to appreciate each day.

Our usual tree farm was closed, so we traveled a little farther and found a forest of perfect trees. The air was crisp and cold as we rode the tractor out to the fields, but we enjoyed the beautiful landscape. So many years we have taken our little girls tree hunting, from days when they were stumbling over the stumps and had to be carried. It's a tradition the girls would surely miss if ever we didn't do it. Fred and I would miss it too!

This farm had every size and shape tree imaginable. It was easy to find a good one. Fred quickly cut it and he dragged it down the hill to wait for the tractor. As it was shaken and bound, we enjoyed the free hot chocolate. Another tradition.

The girls are getting older now and take over most of the tree decorating, except for the lights that Fred does. In no time our perfect tree was dressed and lit. I tried and tried to take a good picture of it but none turned out well. Just picture an artificial tree in a department store, precisely symmetrical and flawless. That's what ours looks like, only we have a fresh pine scent and soft branches you can touch. A Christmas tree marks the years of our lives; memories flood my mind as I sit in silence and enjoy it. Thank you, Lord. One more year.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Time to Pray

"City sidewalks, busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style,
In the air there's a feeling of Christmas,

Silver bells, silver bells,
It's Christmas time in the city..."

I always loved that song. Not growing up in a city, I never really knew what it meant. But years ago a friend took Arielle and me at Christmastime to a big department store in the city that my friend visited with her parents as a child, and we heard carols played on a big organ and saw the city dressed in lights. The sidewalks were full of wide-eyed children bundled in their coats and scarves, and then the song came alive for me.

Last week I took the train into the city on a cold and windy day, and yes, in the air there was a feeling of Christmas. But soon I entered another world far removed from Christmas--a big city hospital where a friend's husband is dying of a disease that the best minds in this big city can't figure out.

As our family rejoices in our blessings this year, it is not a joyful time for many families close to us. Serious illness casts a shadow over any happiness this Christmas might bring. My heart is heavy as I think of them. Earlier, I posted this verse that always makes me think of Thanksgiving around our table.

"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.

How do we reconcile those words with these from Habakkuk 3:17-19?

"Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold,
and there be no herd in the stalls,

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength,
he makes my feet like the deer's,
he makes me tread on my high places."

This reminds me of what Job said, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him." I think if we really knew what lies ahead after death, we would have a different perspective on suffering. We would have God's perspective. In trusting God, we can find joy--not in the circumstances surely, but in God and in his presence. He has promised never to leave us and to walk the journey with us.

At this stage in life it is inevitable that we will see friends (and ourselves) suffer. Do we despair or do we trust in a sovereign God? Today I read Daniel 9, Daniel's prayer for his people during desperate times. His words tell us how to respond to calamity. We are to entreat the favor of our God. We are to turn from sin. And we are to gain insight into God's truth. Daniel ends by saying:

"O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive, pay attention and act. Delay not..."

Pray for others.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Thursday, December 02, 2010


Well, here we go again! I have a teenager in the house once more. Somehow I think this time around will be different. Girls and boys are SO DIFFERENT! I've discovered that fact over the years. And my daughter is a unique person, wise and responsible. I will not buy into our culture's view that the teenage years will be tumultuous and difficult.

Arielle is 13! She decided she is too old for our usual kind of party with friends coming for crafts and games. With all that has been going on here, I wasn't up for it anyway. Financially we can't do the birthday event parties where the group goes to an ice skating rink or a pottery-making studio. But I told Arielle I would give her a day off from school and we could go or do anything--just the three of us girls.

Arielle had a hard time choosing. But she decided she wanted to shop 'til we dropped. So we did. We went to the mall and I bought her some needed clothing. We had smoothies from the food court and then walked around sampling all the food the vendors were handing out. We found Santa, just to see if it is the same "real" Santa who has always been at this mall every year since Arielle was a baby. He's getting old. With some trepidation we walked over and discussed how sad it would be if he wasn't there. But he was!

We bought Fred a birthday gift and Kelsey a Christmas gift. Liana bought an outfit for her new Build-A-Bear. We walked over to the next-door mall we never visit and found a great family gift for my nieces. I won't say what it is here, just in case my brother is reading. The best part of this trip was having no schedule, just doing whatever the girls wanted. Finally even Arielle had had enough and we went home. I made her favorite birthday soup. Then her cousin Julie called and that really made her night special.

Arielle wanted a new guitar for her birthday. She doesn't have a teacher, but we got her an instructional DVD. She also has a brother who plays guitar, so she looks forward to him showing her some techniques. Amazingly, she has already learned how to tune the guitar and how to play some simple chords. Her years of piano study have helped in reading the music and understanding the terms. My little girl has grown up! How blessed I am that she is my daughter!