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December ending and saying so-long to 2017

As December goes – it is the best of times and the worst of times.

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The joy of Christmas mixed with the stress of the holidays can do us in. Sometimes we sigh with relief on the 26th and breathe “I’m glad it’s over.” Been there and done that.

But December 2017 was different from years past. It seemed slower, quiet days intermingled with a manageable busy. The month started with a Christmas recital of my piano students at a senior assisted-living facility that was great fun. The residents enjoyed our familiar carols, and we enjoyed talking with them.

People dropped in to share a meal or a cup of hot tea and cocoa with us. Two days Sweet William and I had a house full of girls which made for a lively Wright House. They brought conversation, giggles, and a lot of fun to us.

We spent time with friends and family, planned and spur of the moment. I am thankful for the people in my life who enrich me in ways I can’t even describe, but I recognize it when I see myself growing, the fruit that comes from companions who make me better.

My decorating was simple this year. While the Christmas tree is not my favorite thing to do, Sweet William loves it. So it was the first thing on the to-do list. Somehow completing that one task made the rest easier. Our pre-lit tree began to shut down one branch at a time, so I made a stop at the dollar store to purchase LED lights. We added them to a fully-decorated tree, and in the spirit of Charlie Brown’s friend Linus, it was not a bad little tree at all.

My December goals were simple:
1. Learn to listen better and speak less
2. Walk in peace and offer peace
3. Purge Christmas stuff as I put it away

I’m still working on one and two. Three didn’t happen. I did a major purge last year, and it seemed to be less than I remembered. So I boxed it all up and once again stored it behind a closed door.

During the month I was reading Eve Schaub’s Year of No Clutter: A Memoir. Her efforts at emptying an overstuffed junk room and eliminating clutter in her life revealed some of the reasons we collect and keep, store and even hoard. Being the keeper of memories, I began to understand myself as I read about Eve’s issues with stuff. It helped me turn loose without guilt and to stress less about keeping what is precious and memorable to me.

Speaking of books, I tracked the ones I read this year in my bullet journal. It is an interesting discipline that now shows me the variety of material I’ve consumed. Reading was not something I enjoyed in school when I was required to do book reports. Thankfully, I have learned to love the written word, and find non-fiction as attractive as fiction.

It is not surprising then, that I am interested in bloggers who list their favorite books. I take some of their suggestions as I make my list for 2018. I check my library first. Because while I am a collector of things, books being one category, I now want to read a loaned book rather than purchase another that must find room on the shelves. (Though I am still buying books. What’s wrong with me?)

As the hours of 2017 are dwindling, I become reflective, reviewing the 365 days I spent so casually. Did I use them well?

And what of 2018? A new year emerges as a clean slate, an unwritten notebook, a fresh start. As I prepare my new bullet journal, jotting down goals, aspirations, intentions, resolutions if you will, one thing I do want is to be aware of the exquisiteness of life. It is ths gift of years, days and seconds we have been allotted. The bequest of breaths I take should count for something. It is not about filling my days full of activity and proclaiming my mantra, “I’m just so busy.” That’s no way to live.

There should be time to sit quietly, ponder and meditate;
time to listen as others speak without thinking of my response and what I want to say;
time to invite others into my life in a deep and meaningful way;
time to read good books, read again the aged manuscripts of God and learn anew;
time to serve with humility and grace;
time to work hard and do it for the glory of God;
time to be fully present in the moment, to enjoy and find joy in each one;
time to love freely and to let myself be loved completely.

Solomon said, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” There is time, and it is an offering we give back in how we use it.

The passing of winter solstice, December 21, is encouraging as I anticipate temperatures in the minuses on New Year’s Eve. The days are getting longer, though imperceptible as yet. I know it is a truth. By February it will be a noticeable reality. Then spring will not be far away.

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It is much like faith which is based on what we know is true. We trust and wait to see the faith become reality.

This is Christmas in all of its wonder and glory, faith built on truth. December is really more like the beginning than the end of a year. It reminds us to pause and reflect on the majesty of God’s love and His invitation for a fresh start, a new birth, a beginning to live real life abundantly.

As I approach a new year, words to an old song invade my thoughts, “Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand. But I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand.

Whatever 2018 has in store, I am holding to the Maker of time and years. What is even more reassuring is that He is holding me. He will not let my foot slip.

He is not caught off guard or unaware of today or tomorrow or next month. He is God and He is in control.

Rest your future with Him.

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Immanuel

I’ve written it in notes and Christmas cards this December, these words I am holding close this season.

Immanuel – God with us.

The hurry and flurry of the holidays keeps us hopping. Our homes are decorated with reds and greens, the twinkling lights gracing shrubbery, windows and the trees in our living rooms. Packages appear in brightly wrapped paper and gift bags. We wear our Christmas sweaters with pride.

Friends and family fill the spaces. We drink eggnog and eat too many Christmas cookies. Laughter rings through the house, and we are thankful for these people who gather at the table.

Yet, there are grieving hearts, longing souls, functions that are a little dysfunctional because we all have our own problems to deal with. Sometimes we put on a happy face so no one sees the pain, so we don’t rain on the parade as it marches down the street.

We get irritated with crazy drivers and clogged traffic, long shopping lines and the out-of-stock item we wanted under the tree. Checking accounts are running a little low, and there’s still a week of bills to pay. Our patience is in short supply when demands are made on us that feel more like obligations than celebration. We wonder if our Christmas spirit has gone into hiding.

December is much like every other month on the calendar, fraught with challenges and opportunities. We have a choice on where we will focus.

Emmanuel – In Hebrew, with us is God.See the source image

 

It was the prophecy of Messiah from the pen of Isaiah, re-written in Matthew as a reminder of its fulfilling.

These words, spoken to us by God over and over through our history, as if we are hard of hearing.

“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”    — Genesis 28:15

And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.”   — Exodus 33:14

 

“The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.”   — Psalm 46:7

Once more with a pronouncement from the angel Gabriel, God came to us wrapped in humanity, He whose name is Immanuel.

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He grew and experienced life as I do, with all of its ups and downs, with vigor and weariness, with smiles and tears, with joyful celebrations and heartbreak of separation. He came as the “with us God” and demonstrated to us that we are not alone.

As He left this earth in a burst of clouded glory, He gave one final reminder to those who believed:

 ” . . . And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”   — Matthew 28:20

Then sending the promised Holy Spirit, He remains with us in a way we could not have imagined.

Immanuel. God is with us.

Do not fret or be afraid. Walk in the power of His presence. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.

Our God is with us.

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Traditions come and then they go

 

101_1310Not long ago a friend asked me about our holiday traditions. I went back 40 years and remembered Christmas morning breakfasts of waffles and syrup at my parents’ home.

Married only a few years, Sweet William and I lived close enough to walk if we wanted, but there were presents to carry and eventually a small boy in tow on a chilly day, so we drove the truck.

We entered through the walk-in basement of their home and ascended the stairs that led us into the kitchen. It was warm and fragrant of coffee and bacon.  The old familiar red and green printed cloth was spread on mother’s round table for the morning feast. Homemade syrup was heating on the gas stove. In the adjacent living room was a tree dressed in red ornaments and birds and laden with presents planned with love. Those were such good days, fondly recalled, bringing a smile to my heart.

Life moves on as unavoidable change affects us. My mother and dad are both gone now. The first Christmas after my mother’s death was so difficult for me. I knew there would be no waffles at her house that year. We had to do something different because Christmas would never be the same again without her excitement, smile, warm hugs, and loving presence.

Yet there was this small boy who needed some normalcy, needed to celebrate Christmas when I didn’t want to that year. I muddled through it somehow. Eventually I had to learn a new way to honor the holidays and life as we now knew it.

I enjoy hearing people talk about their family traditions. When they throw in phrases like, “We always . . . ” or “Every year we . . . ,” it tells me how meaningful special rituals are in the life of a family. Traditions help stabilize when the world is crashing around us.

We bring our traditions with us into a new family unit or we build new ones into the holidays on purpose. But then something happens that disrupts everything. An accident, a divorce, a death, a move, a job loss. Even blessed events, like marriage and children, affect how we will amend what we did last year. We have to adjust or risk making ourselves and everyone around us miserable.

Traditions are wonderful but they are not laws set in stone.

Much has changed for Sweet William and me over the past decade. I recall the traditions we held precious when loved ones were near. But we don’t celebrate the same way now.

More than one family is dealing with a holiday vastly different from last year. What are we to do? We may grieve while treasuring what was. We must move forward into the altered present. Learn to roll with the punches, go with the flow, modify and accommodate.

If we can’t move beyond our expectations, we strain at the bit and potentially hurt ourselves and the ones we love.

Our lives are being refined by the daily events of life. We often put importance on what seems huge and memorable. We may not comprehend how the small day-to-day incidents can clarify, purify, hone and polish us to be conformed into the image of Christ. Humbly submitting to changes with a settled joy may be part of the process of reflecting His countenance.

Change is inevitable. All I have to do is look in the mirror to see the transformations going on. The hair is whiter, the laugh lines deeper, the eyeglasses have three vision areas. And let’s not even talk about what’s going on with my body.

And yet . . . there is a changeless One giving me hope.

In Him there is no shadow of turning.

He is from everlasting to everlasting.

His faithfulness remains even when I am faithless.

Before the foundation of the earth, He is the Lamb of God.

He is a High Priest forever.

He declares the end from the beginning.

He is Alpha and Omega, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

My tradition of reading and meditating on the birth of Christ remains with me. Though He dressed in humanity, was brought forth as an infant, and submitted to earthly limitations and suffering, He was still God. He is still God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. And we have seen his glory.

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Sunday grace

What are we searching for?

Yesterday I searched through the house for a present I knew I had purchased and wrapped but could not find. I looked under the tree, in closets, in reasonable and unreasonable places, to no avail.

By day’s end, I decided to check one more time and found it sitting undisturbed right where I’d put it.

There’s a lot of searching going on in our world.

The last-minute gift for that hard-to-buy for person on our list. The daily on-line discount with free shipping that will arrive in time. The Pinterest project that will be beautiful and easy enough to finish before the deadline. The organic, non GMO, all natural ingredients needed for the food dish we always prepare for a family gathering.

What are we really searching for?

A bunch of shepherds went searching for a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a feeding trough.

The far-eastern astrologers traveled a long distance inquiring about a king.

The old man Simeon, expecting God to keep His promise, looked for the consolation of Israel.

The widowed Anna was faithfully serving when the Spirit led her to Joseph and Mary with their newborn.

We are we really searching for in our frantic-busy, traffic-clogged, worry-filled world?

Could it be what we are really seeking is a compassionate, understanding heart?

Are we looking for peace in the atmosphere of chaos?

Do we need forgiveness for all we have ever done and the lingering guilt that torments us?

Is there someone who will be there for us and never leave us alone?

Can there actually be a love that will not let us go?

Could it be that the one thing that will fill our emptiness is what filled the manager?

What are we really searching for?

Our heart’s cry will only be satisfied with One and Only. His name is Jesus.

Sunday grace.

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Permission to rest

Rest has not always been on my list of things to do. More likely in years past, I tried to see how little of it I needed. But no longer. I have wised up. I value a good night’s sleep. I enjoy sitting with afternoon coffee. I relish time at the table with friends and loved ones.

In our face-paced living, perhaps we need to rethink rest and give ourselves permission to do it more often. We might live longer; we might be happier; it might improve our relationships; and just possibility, we could experience a whole different kind of Christmas.

I enjoy Holley Gerth’s writings, and today she speaks to my heart. I hope you will read her wise words, posted here, and allow yourself and those around you to have a restful holiday season.

HOLLEY GERTH: What Can You Give Yourself this Christmas?

Rest can be an act of worship.

On being content

{This is my monthly book review.  Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts.}

Christmas is not usually a season of practicing contentment. Advertisers do their job well in making their wares look enticing, like I just can’t live without it.

It’s very likely children and adults are making lists and checking them twice to make sure everything is there. We will leave the list in an obvious place so the powers that be will find it.

When our son was young, we had the Sears Roebuck Christmas Catalog. It was a special day when it arrived in the mail. He would sit and look through the colorful pages for hours it seemed. I later found page corners turned down and big bold circles drawn around the item he wanted on each dog-eared page.

We didn’t get everything he requested, but we tried to quench his hungry, child heart with what we hoped would make him happy.

The thing is, it’s not the stuff that makes us happy.

At Christmas I find it challenging to think of gifts for friends my age. We have lived years gathering, and our homes are full, running over even. In a day when off-site storage units are popular, obviously, in our United States, we are a people who have much and want more.

The young people I know are much the same, well-dressed with lots of tech gadgets and plenty to occupy them in the way of books and games. One mom confided that toys scattered on the floor of their modest home for their only child can be overwhelming.

We live in a land of plenty. Why aren’t we content?

Thus, The Marvelous Mud House was a book I wanted to read.   Image result for images the marvelous mud house

Written in a child’s format by April Graney, the book is beautifully illustrated in bright colors by Alida Massari.  The author tells how the story came to be here.

The Marvelous Mud House first takes us to Kenya where we meet George and his mother. They live in a mud house and work daily for their sustenance. Mama George sings a song of thanksgiving during their daily trek up and down the mountain to sell corn and mangos at the market.

On the other side of the world lives an affluent American family who have a home for all seven of them, a big car, lots of toys and a dog. Yet the children bicker and whine, despite the plenty in which they live.

All George wants is to be able to go to school. But his mother doesn’t have the necessary fees. She tells him with profound faith, “Let’s keep working, George. God will provide.”

The Smith family in America decides to travel to Kenya where they meet George and his mother. They are affected by the simple lifestyle and the joy within the hearts of two who have so little in comparison to the Smiths.

When the Smith family return to America, they are changed for the better. The rest of the book tells how their heart change is put into action.

Toward the back of the book is a Parent Connection page with Scriptures to read and questions to encourage conversation between parent and child.

We may need to consider our true riches in Christ and to be joyful for what we have.

Contentment is something we can learn. We begin to acquire it when, in our bounty and in our scarcity, we realize we hunger for what truly satisfies. We discover we can trust the Provider who gives exactly what we need.

I want to pursue contentment in my present circumstances, and like Mama George, to say with a profound faith, “Let’s keep working. God will provide.”

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NOTE:   I received a copy of The Marvelous Mud House provided by B&H Publishing, for an honest review.  The book was free.  The words are my very own. 

A Christmas prayer

Reading the first few chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke are a yearly tradition for me in December. The words are ancient and familiar, yet like a drink of pure spring water they quench my thirst. And this morning I was parched.

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I opened the Book to the story of Zachariah the aged priest who just so happened to be chosen on this particular day for a special assignment. He entered the Holy Place of the temple to offer incense on an altar that represented prayer and petition to God. The people were praying outside while the priest prayed inside.

I wonder if Zacharia thought of that one prayer he had prayed again and again, the one for a child, a son from his loins.

Yet here he stood, an old man whose wife was equally well along in years, childless the two of them. Because Elizabeth was barren.

God’s timing for answering prayers are so often out of sync with what I envision.

The angel’s appearance was awesome, causing fear, but his announcement must have been confusing to Zachariah. “Your prayer has been heard.”

What prayer? You mean the one I stopped praying years ago? The one I quit hoping to be answered in the way I was expecting? The prayer that would have been in a timetable right for me? That prayer?

Zachariah and I, we have things in common.

The prayers I am grappling with sometimes grip my heart with their urgency. I cry out to my Father, my eyes filling with tears, longing for an answer. And please, can it be today?

How many times have I read that God’s ways are not my ways, that His time is not my time? And yet, I want Him to do it by my prescription and on my schedule.

Faithful Zachariah and Elizabeth had lived blameless lives, following the commands God gave to His people. Surely their prayers would be answered. Undoubtedly their desire for a child would not go unheeded.

After so many years they became resigned. Head shakes and whispers behind their backs must have been hurtful. People can wonder when trouble beats us up and we are not being blessed in the conventional sort of way.

And yet, on this day in an old man’s life, the angel Gabriel, who stands in the presence of the Almighty, was on a mission to proclaim wonderful news to Zachariah. “Your prayer has been heard.”

 

God declares in His word that my requests, petitions, prayers are heard. He says He answers when He gets good and ready, because He alone knows when the time is right and all things are in place.

So, my fellow traveler, don’t let discouragement weigh you down. Don’t give in to doubt and unbelief. Throw off the lie that you are forgotten and forsaken. Keep being faithful. Keep going on your knees. Keep trusting that your God hears your every plea and preserves your tears in a bottle.

Believe that your prayer has been heard. In the fullness of time, and according to the perfect plan of God who does all things well, there will be an answer.

And it will be spectacular.

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