Archive | December 2011

A Labor of Love

Christmas is quickly approaching and one by one things-to-do, gifts-to-give, and items-to-buy are being crossed off my lists.  The tree is decorated, my shopping is done, some of my gifts have been handmade, most of the wrapping is done, and by tonight all of the parties and programs will have been attended.  I’ll do a little baking this week and start packing for our trip to Alabama, but by Saturday night, we’ll be ready for Christmas Eve with the family at my sister’s house.  We (meaning Bob, Robbie and I and the eight Naranjos) will leave early on Christmas morning for Julie’s house in Alabama, and the next day, the 26th, will celebrate Christmas with her family.  Finally, we’ll be able to relax then and spend the week down there just enjoying being together—our last hurrah before the Naranjos return to Ecuador sometime in January.

Let’s face it—most of preparing for Christmas falls, at least in this household, to the wife and mother—and I suspect it is the same in most homes.  Although he loves the finished results and the traditions we have established, my husband does not understand the necessity for all these preparations and would like me to just sit back and watch it all just magically happen.  I will admit, this year I did simplify and cut a few things out just to make it a little less stressful.  I am so happy to have Laurie’s family living with us (and dreading their departure), but I know I have enough on my plate just with everyday living that I could not add a lot of extras into the mix.

As time-consuming, expensive and stressful as all of these preparations can be, I would not

give it up entirely for anything.  It is a labor of love.  I want to brighten Robbie’s world because I love him so I put up the tree.  I love my grandchildren and want them to remember Christmas at Grandma’s house with fondness, as I remember my childhood Christmases.  I carefully choose gifts, or even make them, for each member of my family and wrap them beautifully because I love them and want to give them the best I can.

I have actually felt less stressed this year in getting it all done.  Maybe it is because I have tried to focus often during each day on the true reason for the season.  I have listened a lot to Christmas music these last few weeks—even putting on my headphones and shutting out the noise and the TV and the craziness going on around me and just concentrating on the words to many beautiful Christmas carols and songs.

My favorite Christmas song for several years now has been “Mary, Did You Know?”  The words are awe-inspiring and have sparked several conversations lately as we’ve wondered if Mary could truly understand the entire scope and magnitude of what had happened to her, or the true nature of her little son.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.

 

This year I’ve come upon a new Christmas song that touches my heart as well.  The words depict the nitty-gritty truth about how that night in the stable of Bethlehem might have been.  Not the lovely manger scene we see on cards, on lawns and in Christmas programs, but the realities of what Mary faced; how Joseph must have felt; the cold, stark environment that welcomed the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  The song made me focus more clearly on the sacrifice that Mary and Joseph made in order to be vessels that God could use in His plan to bring salvation to sinful men, the sacrifice that Christ made in coming down to this earth at all, and the labor of love that the events of that night truly were.

Labor of Love

It was not a silent night.
There was blood on the ground.
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David’s town.

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold,
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother’s hand to hold.

It was a labor of pain.
It was a cold sky above,
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love.

Noble Joseph at her side,
Callused hands and weary eyes.
There were no midwives to be found
In the streets of David’s town
In the middle of the night.

So he held her and he prayed,
Shafts of moonlight on his face.
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love
For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
It was a labor of love

 

Mary was willing to be used because she truly loved the Lord.  When the angel Gabriel came to her and announced that she would carry the Son of God, she humbly and submissively accepted that labor of love.  Luke 1:38, 46-50 says, “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her…And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.  For He hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.  For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name.  And His mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.”

We do what we do for our families, and give of ourselves sacrificially, because we love them.  May we always be willing to accept whatever it is the Lord calls us to do, no matter how difficult that labor is, because we love Him, too.

Have a beautiful Christmas, giving glory and thanks to God for His unspeakable gift!  I will see you back here at Sundays with Cindy on January 8th!  

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Oh, Christmas Tree!

‘Tis the season to be jolly but I have to confess, I was feeling slightly bah, humbug-ish yesterday.  It was time to put up the Christmas tree.  Past time, actually.  I’d already put it off a couple weeks.  If it was going up at all, it had to be this weekend.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love our Christmas tree—once it’s up.  It’s not huge, but it has over a thousand colored lights on it, and well over 300 ornaments.  Most of those ornaments are special for one reason or another.  For the last forty years we have traditionally given each member of the family an ornament that represents who they are, or is significant for some event that happened in their life that year.  Friends give us other ornaments, and although I tell myself I cannot buy any more ornaments for myself, every year I succumb to temptation and buy at least one or two more that I find especially beautiful or meaningful.  Of course the girls and their families have taken their ornaments for their own trees, but I now have a tote that is nearly full of old, less “special” ornaments that I cannot fit on the tree.

As much as I love our Christmas tree, every year I go through the same inner battle with myself—should I set up the tree or not?  It seems the older I get, the lazier I get.  It just sounds like so much work, as I contemplate it.  Bob brings up all the totes and sets up the tree, but then I am the one who puts on the lights and decorates by myself.  If I wasn’t so fussy he would probably help, but it is better that he just lets me do it myself even if it does take ten or twelve hours to do it!  No wonder it takes so long—every one of those ornaments is carefully and precisely hung in just the right spot.

There is one reason I cannot allow myself to wimp out and not put up the tree—Robbie.  His world is pretty much confined to two or three rooms in our house.  He loves the Christmas tree, and if for a few weeks each year I can brighten his little world, then that is what I need to do.

This year I have six more reasons to put up the Christmas tree as well—my six Naranjo grandchildren who are living with us for a few months.  Matthew and Mandy, of course, don’t remember Grandma’s tree at all since they have been in Ecuador the last three years.  The other four remember different ornaments with oohs and ahs, and study the old photo ornaments to see if they can figure out which baby picture is which.

On the other hand, those other six “reasons” are also why I struggled with, and delayed in, putting up the tree this year.  We are so crowded in this house that bringing in one more thing—one more big thing—to take up floor space in our already over-flowing living room seemed crazy.  I just couldn’t disappoint Robbie and the kids, though, so the Grinch in me was out-voted, and the tree went up yesterday.

Well, it is partially up.  The one thousand lights are lit and four hundred of them are twinkling prettily—finally—but the ornaments are still sitting in piles waiting to be put on by the kids this afternoon.  I struggled with the lights yesterday.  I bought a pre-lit tree a couple years ago so I wouldn’t have to mess with tangled balls of unpredictable strings of lights, but at the time, one section of the lights on the tree was not working and I had to add a string of lights anyway to fill in.  Then the 350 lights on the tree just weren’t enough for me, so I added four more strings—another seven hundred lights to be exact.  Two of the strings are twinkling lights.  Yesterday, after testing everything before I put them on the tree, one of the twinkling strings just suddenly quit and only half the tree was twinkling.  Frustration until we finally figured out the fuses had gone out on that string and we changed the fuses.

I guess if I didn’t want to feel so Grinch-ish each year I could forget the strings of lights and just settle for the pre-lit tree.  I could choose one hundred of my favorite ornaments instead of three hundred and not be so fussy about how they are hung.  I must say, though, in the end, when I see the happiness on Robbie’s face when he see the tree go up; when I see the baby’s eyes glowing and Matthew and Katie barely able to contain their excitement as they pick up and examine the ornaments waiting to go on the tree, my heart grows a couple of sizes bigger and I get over the humbugs—until next year.

I know there are some Christians who will not have a tree in their homes because they say the tradition of the Christmas tree stems back to paganism.  I do not know about that.  My beautifully lit Christmas tree reminds me of another tree upon which the Light of the world hung.  Some of our ornaments depict the birth of the Baby Jesus, faith, hope, and love; many of the others represent each of the individual lives in our family—all gifts of God.  The gifts at the foot of our tree are symbolic of His greatest gift of all—salvation through His only begotten Son.  John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Romans 6:23 adds, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

It is a chore to set up the Christmas tree.  I don’t always enjoy it.  But in the end, I rejoice in its beauty and all that it means to me of family, love and the true meaning of Christmas—a baby who grew up to hang on a tree for me.  This life can be drudgery at times.  It is hard, but in the end, how we will rejoice at the Gift freely given for us on that tree!  The Light of the world has come!  The love Gift of God is ours for the taking!  Rejoice!

Wow–and Ow!

“Hear Ye!  Hear Ye!” the parchment invitation read.  “You are invited as Guests of Honor to a dinner fit for royalty…”  I’d been eagerly looking forward to this event for weeks.  A couple in our church had decided to host a dinner in appreciation for all the pastors, staff members and deacons of our church, along with their spouses, and they were going all out to make it a fabulous and memorable evening.  It was a dress affair, so Bob and I got all spiffyed up in our nicest attire and were feeling pretty good about ourselves when we were finally ready to go.

The grandchildren oohed and ahhed when they saw Grandma and Grandpa all gussied up. Even four-year-old Matthew looked up at me shyly and said, “I like it!”  Laurie grabbed her camera and took a few pictures.  It is very rare when Bob and I get to go out together—and rarer still when it is to a dress-up affair.  One of us is usually at home with Robbie.  That night, though, Laurie and Fernando were taking care of him and we were free to go.

Our eldest granddaughter had promised to babysit for our pastor and his wife, so we were going to drop her off at their house on the way.  We were leaving plenty early because of the Friday night traffic which we knew would be even worse than usual because of the Christmas shoppers out on the road.  We finally climbed into our pumpkin-coach (that is, our Taurus) and headed off to the ball.

Five minutes down the road—crash!!!  We came over the top of an overpass and the backed-up traffic ahead of us had come to a sudden halt due to the light at the bottom of the hill.  We slammed into the car ahead of us with only a split-second’s warning.  What a sickening feeling!  Because of the heavy traffic we had been going only 15-20 miles an hour.  There was significant damage to both cars, but, thankfully, no one was hurt.  Shaken up, and bruised a little from the seat belts, but okay—praise the Lord!

We called Fernando to come and get Sara and take her on down to the pastor’s house.  Bob and I waited for the police to arrive.  We did not know if our car was drivable at that point, or if the officer would even let us drive it.   Of course, I was a little upset about the accident (although praising God for His protection!), but I was much more upset about missing the banquet!  Our one time to get all dressed up and go to a wonderful event together and we were going to miss it!  Tears came to my eyes at the thought.

My tears were wasted.  Less than thirty minutes later the police officer told us we were free to go!  He did not even give Bob a ticket thanks to his spotless record and the fact that, as the officer told us, accidents happened at that very spot all the time when traffic got backed up.  We were minus a headlight, but the policeman gave Bob a paper to show if we got pulled over later in the evening (which we did!  The paper worked like a charm!)

We made it to the banquet with ten minutes to spare!  I was a bit shaky when I got out of the car, and my wrist and ankles were stiff and sore.  I knew they weren’t seriously hurt, but the impact had been on my side of the car, and in that split-second of seeing the accident about to happen, I had braced myself and apparently jammed my wrist and ankles just enough to make them hurt.  In the light of the ladies’ room I could see red welts and a bruise across my neck and upper chest where the seatbelt had cut in.  Oh well, I would be sore tomorrow, but tonight I was going to enjoy this gala evening!

And enjoy it we did!  Every moment was—Wow!  My friend Debbie, who is the most talented florist and decorator I have ever seen, had gone all out.  The tables were covered in full length white table clothes with red velvet runners trimmed with gold tassels going down the centers.  Tall, elegant floral centerpieces and a myriad of candles decked each table.  Gold chargers, beautiful dishes and stemware and formal place settings were at each place.  The chairs were covered in white also with beautiful gold bows tied around the backs.  White lights separated our area from the rest of the fellowship hall, making the “dining room” intimate and cozy in the darkened room lit only by candles and white lights.  A pianist and violinist were off to one side providing live music to the setting.

There was no program other than a poem of appreciation that Debbie read at the beginning.  There was a good reason for that.  The seven course meal took three hours to eat!  As the courses came out one by one, each was greeted at every table by a chorus of oohs and ahhs and “Oh, wow!”  There was shrimp cocktail served in tall goblets, followed by a beautiful spinach salad topped with thinly sliced apples, crumbled feta cheese, walnuts and a dressing that blended all the flavors perfectly.  The third course was butternut squash soup with just a hint of curry and a swirl of sour cream garnish on top, served with rolls and bread and fancy molded pats of butter.  Dishes of linguini garnished with shaved parmesan followed the soup, and then came a palate cleanser—goblets with a small scoop of lime sorbet.  The main course really had the Wow! factor—whole orange-glazed Cornish hens with a side of fresh steamed string beans.  Dessert was not to outdone—chocolate cheesecake topped with fresh raspberries.  The whole dinner and atmosphere made us feel that we were dining in the finest, most elegant restaurant to be found (one that we could never afford!)  I am so glad we were able to go.  As my pastor said, I think it will be an evening we’ll never forget!

For Bob and me, it was a most memorable evening in more ways than one!  I have been hobbling around for a couple days, recovering from stiff ankles where they had been jammed, but praising the Lord it was nothing more than that.  Bob went around getting estimates for fixing our car which ranged from $2000-$3000 (which will come out of our own pocket.  We had just cancelled our collision insurance a month ago since our car is seven years old and has almost 200,000 miles on it.  Sigh.)  The memories of that beautiful banquet, though, and the heartfelt appreciation behind it, will always outweigh the bad things that happened that night.

It reminds me of the fourth chapter of Philippians.  The fourth verse begins by saying,“Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.”  Rejoice always—in the good and the bad.  Believe me, we were certainly rejoicing in God’s protection that night!  And of course, we totally enjoyed the good things that were provided for us throughout the evening!

Verses six through eight, some of my favorite Scripture, go on to say,“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”  It would be easy to focus on the negatives—the accident, the aches and pains, not to mention the thousands of dollars it is going to cost us (especially at this time of year.)  We can choose however to focus on the many praises we for which to be grateful.

Paul said in verses eleven through thirteen, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.   I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”  Bad things happen sometimes; good things happen many more times.  Whatever happens in our lives, whether it be the Wow! or the Ow!, we need to learn to be thankful and praise Him.  We can trust Him always.