Archive | December 2012

Home for the Holidays

Everything about Christmas this year seemed low-key.  My preparations were fairly stress-free as I cut down on decorating, shopping, wrapping, baking and the thousand little tasks that we think are so necessary.  There was no trip south on Christmas Day for which to pack; no houseful of kids and toys and noise this year.  Even our big family celebration on Christmas Eve at my sister’s house seemed a little subdued as many of the children in the family were missing or had to leave early, and those that were there are growing up.

I was a little bummed.  For years we’ve been able to celebrate with one daughter or the other, and sometimes both.  This year neither would be coming home with their families, and we could not go to them.  With Laurie in Ecuador and Julie in California, traveling with Robbie is just out of the question.  Yes, Christmas this year was de-stressed—but it was also waaaaaaaay too quiet around here.  I dreaded Christmas morning when it would be just Bob, Robbie and I opening a few gifts by ourselves.

What a blessing it was, then, when we got to celebrate with both families via Skype!  My two sons-in-law, bless their hearts, set up their laptops as their children gathered around their Christmas trees, and we eagerly turned on Skype, awaiting their calls.

Laurie and Fernando, along with Sara, Gabi, Melissa, Katie, Matthew and Mandy, called on Christmas Eve afternoon.  They were all dressed up in preparation for going to their Naranjo relatives that evening.  Wow—what gorgeous kids!  We watched with huge smiles and curiosity as they opened their gifts from us.  Laurie had done some of the shopping for us since we could only put money in their account for their Christmas gifts.  A fine job she did of it, too!  The kids were thrilled with their gifts and came running up to the webcam to show us their treasures and say thank you.  We laughed as the baby told us “Tank Coo!” for all her gifts whether they were from us or not!  They watched us open our gifts from them.  They saw the joy on Robbie’s face as he opened the two Winnie the Pooh pillows they had ordered off the internet and had shipped here.  We all laughed as Grandpa opened the John Wayne fleece throw they had sent him and he and five year old Matthew said in unison their favorite John Wayne quote, “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do!”  It was as if we were all gathered together in the same room, sharing Christmas just as we had always done.

The next day we enjoyed Julie’s family as they gathered around their tree.  It was their first Christmas together as one family.   Julie and David had adopted James and Anastasia from the Ukraine just a few months ago, and now Benjamin, Joshua and Hannah with their two new siblings could hardly contain their excitement as they greeted us on Skype.  I loved watching them with their arms around each other’s shoulders, obviously blending very well as sisters and brothers.  Robbie opened another pillow from them—this time, a colorful light-up one.  He was thrilled!  In Robbie’s opinion a guy can never have too many pillows!  They joked with us and included us throughout the celebration.  If I could have silently watched in on them, like a little mouse in the corner, I would have been happy, but they made sure we were actually a part of their Christmas.  It was a miracle to me that we could be with both our daughters and their families for Christmas thanks to Skype.  The only things missing were the hugs and kisses.

What a difference it made for me to have this Christmas blessing!  I expected to be sad and missing our kids.  Instead the Lord allowed us to be together in a very real way.  As I have so many, many times in the past, I could only praise and thank God for the modern technology He has allowed us to have these days.

It was wonderful to feel such a part of what was happening right there in those living rooms, but it also felt a bit as if we were looking through a window from afar, witnessing the dynamics of these two families and smiling, laughing, cheering them on.  We chuckled as once or twice one of the kids would forget we were looking on and do something considered, shall we say, “inappropriate” in polite company.  Our hearts were touched as we witnessed little gestures of love among the children.

Hebrews 12:1 reminds us that “…we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.”  All around us are witnesses, viewing our lives.  Some are here among us—family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, strangers—watching our lives and being influenced one way or the other by what they see and hear from us.  Others surround us unseen—angels—interested bystanders in how we live and serve the Lord and helpers that are sent by Him for our protection and assistance in spiritual warfare.  I believe there are others watching from the windows of Heaven—our loved ones who have gone before us, cheering us on in this great race we call life.

And then there is the One who never sleeps or slumbers but is with us always, watching and caring for us even when we are not aware that He walks by our side.  He is not limited by the boundaries of Skype.  He can reach right through with that touch or hug or kiss when His child needs Him most.  We may not see Him, but we can feel His loving arms around us.  He is the Unseen Guest, but He is right there in the room with us.  Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:9)   His presence is real and always.  His watchcare surrounds us.  What a comfort and blessing in our lives!

The Day Before the Day Before Christmas

Whew.  Almost everything on my list has been crossed off except for some last minute baking and goodie-making.  Granted, there were some shortcuts taken, some help given, some gift-giving simplified, some traditions skipped (just for this year.)  My preparations for Christmas this year have been de-stressed, and I have to admit—it feels pretty good, and I am trying not to feel guilty about it!

My trip to California the first week of December kind of put Christmas on hold.  By the time I got home there were less than two weeks left to get in the groove.   Bob surprised me by having the Christmas tree already up and decked out with almost 1000 lights.  It looked so pretty, and Bob and Robbie were enjoying it so much without the three hundred or so ornaments I usually put on that I decided to just skip the ornaments and other decorations this year and call it good!  Gasp!  Shock!  I love our ornaments! They are each special and tied in to many memories of our life and children and grandchildren.  How could I???  Well, I did, and next year it will be so much more fun to get those ornaments out and hang them on the tree!  And don’t worry, Robbie and I have definitely enjoyed the Christmas spirit in this house with all the Christmas music, story-reading playing with his musical Christmas toys, and enjoying the twinkling, colorful lights!  He has been a happy boy!

Then there was the mad rush of shopping for gifts.  Actually, no “mad rush” this year!  I did a little shopping for Julie’s family before I left for California to visit them, and a little more after I got there, and I did some internet shopping for the first time (so simple and so nice to be able to have the gifts shipped directly to them!)  Gift-giving for the Naranjos in Ecuador was simple, as well.  They all got cash.  Three out of four times when I have tried to mail something to them in recent years, they never receive it.  There was no one going down there to take gifts to them, so we just put money in their account for each of them and they can use it however they’d like.  Shopping for the rest of the family in Indiana seemed fairly stress-free and I finished it quickly.  Whoo-hoo!

Bob took on getting cards written and sent out—the first time in 42 years of marriage!  I had declared I wasn’t sending cards this year and he decided we ought to at least send cards to those who sent to us and told me not to worry my [pretty] little head about it—he would do it!  (Okay I added the word “pretty”—he just said “little,” implying, I think, that I was being a pinhead!)  Anyway—fine with me!

Wrapping gifts—always a last-minute rush for me on December 23rd.  This year I had it done days earlier and everything went into gift bags with some tissue paper and a name tag.  Easy-peesy!  Robbie was so excited to see all those presents!  He loves getting presents and pulling the tissue paper out of the bags, peering inside to see what treasure lies within and finally getting his hand inside to pull it out.  He probably thinks all those gifts are for him!  I’m surprised he hasn’t been begging for them, signing “please, please” as he stares at them.  He may not be able to talk but he sure can communicate when he wants to!

So now here we are on the day before the day before Christmas.  I will bake some Jumbo Raisin Nut Cookies this afternoon (my contribution to the cookie tray on Christmas Eve at my sister’s.  We sisters and nieces draw for which cookie we will make and bring.)  Tonight I will make Mexican Pinwheel appetizers and in the morning I will put together a sausage, cheese and cracker tray, also for the party.  When I get home from that I will make a cherry cheesecake to take to my mother’s on Christmas Day.  The next morning I’ll make a corn pudding to contribute to her dinner.  A little at a time to do in the kitchen with some fun times in between.  Nice.

The day before the day before Christmas.  This year it falls on a Sunday.  I was disappointed to find out there will not be a Sunday evening service tonight at our church, since they are having a special Christmas Day service on Tuesday morning.  Bob and I take turns going to church so that one of us is here to take care of Robbie.  He goes to church in the mornings and I go at night.  In the midst of all the preparations for Christmas, though, at the center of my thoughts is the reason for the season—Christ’s coming to earth as a tiny baby in a stable of Bethlehem.  I think that is why I love my Christmas music so much—it focuses my attention on Jesus, despite all the distractions we have at this time of year.

I am thinking this morning of the day before the day before that first Christmas two thousand years ago.  The shepherds of Bethlehem had no idea that their lives would be changed forever in just a short time, when the sky above their fields would be filled with a glorious chorus of angels bringing the best news the world had ever heard—the Prince of Peace had come.  On the day before the day before they went about their usual business, never anticipating the fear and wonder they would experience, or the joyous news they would share with the townfolk of Bethlehem.

On the day before the day before that first Christmas Mary and Joseph were embarking on their journey to Bethlehem.  They, of course, had heard the angel’s announcement as to Who this baby she carried was.  They had wondered, I am sure, what the future held for them and how they would raise this special child.  They knew the babe was due, but on the day before the day before could they have ever dreamed that the Son of God would be born in dark, dirty, cold stable?  Could they have ever dreamed that shepherds would burst in on them that night, excitedly recounting the angels’ proclamation and falling on their knees in worship of Mary’s tiny babe.  Could they have ever imagined that great men from the east would seek them out one day, bearing precious gifts for Him and worshipping the baby King of the Jews.  On the day before the day before, they had no idea that soon they would be fleeing for their lives to Egypt.

On the day before the day before that first Christmas, the world was in ignorance that the Son of God, Emmanuel, was about to come down from Heaven and dwell among us.  They had no idea He would take upon Himself the form of a man and become a servant and sacrifice for us.  There was no anticipation, no joyous preparations for His coming.  The world lay in darkness, unaware that the Light of the world would soon shine, breaking the bondage of sin and darkness.

Sadly, on this day before the day before Christmas, many in this world still have not heard, or if they have heard, choose not to believe that Christ has come to bring salvation to all who trust in Him.  On this day before the day before Christmas, billions have no idea that He is coming to earth again, and it could be today, tomorrow—or the day after tomorrow.  The only preparations to be made for His Second Coming is to make sure that our hearts are right with God.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  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.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.  And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.  And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.  And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.  And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.  But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.  (Luke 2:8-20)

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

…and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory… But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only…Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth comeTherefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.(Matthew 24:30b, 36, 42, 44)

May you have a blessed Christmas and a joyous new Year as we look for His coming again!

From the Mountain Tops to the Ocean Depths

So many things have happened in the last week or so…

I returned from California where I spent a wonderful week with Julie and David and their five beautiful children.  After the tumultuous year they have had, it was heartwarming to see Benjamin, Joshua, Hannah, James and Anastasia truly blending together as siblings.  James was helping Hannah with her new cross stitch.  Hannah tackled Anastasia with hugs and kisses.  Joshua was teaching Anastasia to play the piano, while Benjamin did the same for James.  It was fun to see them all huddled around a game on the floor, feet all intertwined and, with much laughter, breaking out into a wrestling match now and then.  James’ and Anastasia’s English is coming along and communication is much easier.  I loved it as they opened up and shared their hearts with me and a little of their past.  I treasured my one-on-one time with the other three, as well, and tried to get a feel for how they were adjusting to the new family dynamics.

David and Julie have made a warm, comfortable home for their family and are grateful to the Lord for what they consider a new beginning in California for all seven of them as one unit.  I am so proud of my daughter and her husband.  They have sacrificed so much and worked so hard to do what they believe is God’s calling for them—to rescue the fatherless and give them a safe and loving home where they will have a chance to know the Savior and have not only a better life here, but eternal life as well.   What they are doing is far, far from easy and only their obedience to God’s will and their love, along with the Lord’s help, enables them to do it.

Besides enjoying my children and grandchildren, I loved California!  It was my first time in that state.  They live within an hour of Santa Barbara, sandwiched between mountains and the coast.  The climate is beautifully moderate and palm trees, cypress, fruit trees, and vineyards are all around.  Their own front yard has twelve full-grown palm trees of different varieties, as well as several more that are almost half-grown.  I am enthralled with palm trees!

The highlight of the week was our trip to the beach.  We were all in awe as we climbed to the top of a sand dune and the Pacific Ocean lay before our eyes, with its mighty surf, and the sun reflecting off its surface.  We watched in awe again a few hours later as the sun suddenly slid below the surface in a matter of seconds, and as the sky darkened, beautiful pink, orange and golden hues glowed against its backdrop.  We picked up sea shells, drift wood and smooth shiny rocks deposited by the waves on the sand, and carried home our sandy treasures.  Having lived in Colorado for fifteen years, it is difficult for  me to choose which I love better—the beautiful majesty of mountains or the awesome power and expanse of ocean.  What an amazing Creator to have fashioned them both!

All too soon it came time to fly home.  It was sad to say goodbye, but then again I was eager to see Bob and Robbie.  Robbie could not decide how he was going to greet me.  Usually when I come home from an overnight trip, or even just from the grocery store, he is all excited to see me and whoops and hollers in his joy.  The night I returned from California, there were little smiles interspersed among big pouts as if he was saying, “Hmm, I’m glad to see you, but where have you been?!!!”

There was no doubt Bob was glad I was home!  He took me by the hand, told me to close my eyes and led me out to the living room.  When I opened my eyes there was the Christmas tree set up and twinkling with lights (Whoo-Hoo!), a freshly cleaned carpet and a new wide-screen, HD television!  (Our old fifteen year-old TV had been going out for months and we knew we would have to replace it soon, but Bob decided to surprise me with it now.)  What a nice welcome home!

I had been on the mountain tops, but as a return to reality set in with all the hum-drum of daily life, it was the usual little bit of a post-vacation letdown.  Oh, well.  Christmas is coming and there is much to do…  So much to look forward to and to prepare!  So much to be thankful for as we remember Jesus coming to earth to be our Savior.

And then came Friday.  As the news trickled in bit by bit about what had happened in Connecticut, our hearts were broken and the tears flowed.  How could someone slaughter these little ones like that?  Each of us thought of the children in our own lives and could not fathom something like that happening in our own lives.  We grieved for the ones left behind, unable to even imagine the depths of the pain and sorrow they must be experiencing.  The ocean depths of grief.

When I thought of those poor people I prayed that somehow they would feel the love of God and  be drawn to Him; that they would feel the comfort and peace that only He can give.  All I could think of were these verses from Romans: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 8:35-39)  If only the people of Newtown knew Jesus as their Savior so that they could experience that love!  No evil, no tribulation, no power; from the mountaintops to the depths of the ocean, nothing can separate us from His love.

Boots and Blessings

It’s been on the news the last few days—a picture of a New York City cop kneeling by a homeless man.  The first thing that you notice is that the man is barefoot.  By all accounts, it was a frigid night and when the officer saw this elderly man sitting on the sidewalk, he was concerned for him.  A tourist from Arizona saw the exchange between the two men and snapped a photo without their knowledge.  She listened as the officer questioned the homeless man, and as he assured the officer that he was okay, but “God bless you anyway.”  She waited as the cop went into a nearby show store and came back with a new pair of boots and socks in the homeless man’s size, and watched as he once again knelt down and helped the man put them on.  The act of kindness by this NYC police officer so moved her that she sent the photo to the police department.  It wasn’t long before the picture had made its way onto the worldwide web and gone viral.

It reminded me of a similar incident that happened years ago when we were in Colorado.  Bob was in seminary but worked, as well, on the second shift.  He was on his way home around midnight when he saw a homeless man shivering in the street.  Bob stopped the car and took off his own warm coat and gave it to the man.  Then he drove home, rushed into the house and out again with a good pair of boots in hand, and went back to find him.  He bought the man a warm meal after giving him the boots, and finally came home.  I was not surprised at Bob’s actions.  It was not the first time he had provided shoes for someone in need, poor as we were ourselves back then.  That was—and still is—his heart.

This is the time of year when folks are more moved to give to charities and help others in need.  There are many great causes and not a day goes by when we are not deluged with different mailings asking for help for Wounded Warriors, Samaritan’s Purse, Salvation Army, Compassion International, disaster relief, famine relief—and on and on.  As much as we would love to, we cannot give to everything.  It is hard to pick and choose where our giving should go.

According to The Charity Navigator, non-profit organizations throughout the country raise 30-40% of their annual income during the last few weeks of the year.  One survey tells us that 57% of respondents said they do donate to charity in some way over the holiday season.  Of those who do, 46% said they make a monetary donation directly to an organization, 64% donate to a third party like a bell ringer or store that collects donations for a charity at checkout, 24% buy gifts for people through an angel tree or adopt-a-family program, 63% donate items like home goods or nonperishable foods, and 22% donate time by volunteering.  Another report says that the average donation amount is much higher during the holiday season: in December 2010, the average gift was $142 versus an average of $91 for the year.  The average American gives 4.7% of their income to charities—although those who tithe give much more, of course.

I prefer to give through our church or other faith-based organizations, where I know the Gospel and spiritual help as well as physical assistance go hand-in-hand.  Help for our wounded veterans is near and dear to Bob.  Helping someone in a more personal way, such as giving the boots, even if it is done anonymously, is a special blessing.  However we give, it is as much a joy and blessing to the giver as it is to the one who receives the gift.

God has this to say about giving inII Corinthians 9:6-10:  But this I say, he which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.  Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: (As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for everNow he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness.)  As my husband likes to say, we cannot out-give the Lord.  When we give, He blesses and supplies our needs, as well.

God loves it when we give out of the abundance of our hearts, not necessarily out of the abundance of our wallets.  When the Bible says to “sow bountifully,” it is not speaking of how much we give, but of how much we give in proportion to how much we have.  Remember the widow’s mite in Mark 12:41-44?  And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.  And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.  And he called unto him his disciples, and smith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:  For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.  We may not have much to give, but when we share cheerfully and willingly, even a widow’s mite is a worthy gift.

Jesus said when we give to the destitute, the homeless, the orphan, the hungry, the disabled—those whom society considers at the bottom of the heap; those whom He called “the least of these”—it is as if we have given to Him.  “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.  Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  (Matthew 25:34-40)  One more blessing—we bless those to whom we minister, we receive blessings ourselves, and we bless Jesus, as well.  I love that!

We cannot think of giving at this time of year without thinking of the greatest gift of all to the neediest of all—the gift of a Savior to a world lost in sin—salvation given personally for you and me if we but reach out and accept it.  Romans 6:23 says, For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  A Savior, salvation, eternal life—we cannot out-give God.  The best gifts we give pale in comparison to His.

Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.  (II Corinthians 9:15)  Let us follow His example and give out of hearts of love.