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A Christmas longing

Sweet William and I savored the bliss of being with our precious ones several times this year. It began with a serendipitous visit, early in the year, from the one and only son when he was on a job near the Wright House. He came and spent the night. The visit was short but oh so very sweet.

The whole family came in the spring, and we attended Easter services together. My pew was full and so was my heart.

We  drove the miles and through states twice in 2016. One for a graduation celebration and one for a sweet sixteen birthday.

And then here they all came for three-day visit at Thanksgiving. It was more than I even dreamed. We have been blessed by companionship in 2016.

So of course, I knew all of us were done traveling for the year. I have accepted the fact

And yet, there is a longing in  my heart as Christmas approaches. Early mornings as I sit and sip my coffee, I remember other years, other Christmases.

I remember when the one and only son was so young and the excitement of the season was almost too much for him. One year he wanted me to put his opened presents back under the tree the morning after and pretend it was Christmas day all over again.

I recall when my mother was alive and how she made the holidays special. She loved to give gifts. After we tore into wrapping paper and boxes at our house, we walked the short distance to my parents’ home where we had more presents to open and a delicious waffle breakfast sitting around their table.

When our son and his family lived in the house next door, we gathered on Christmas Eve to eat a celebratory meal and open gifts. Stockings for each one were stuffed with surprises. My dad and step-mother gathered with us. The big trestle table with two leaves added, bought with the purpose of making room for all,  overflowed with laughter, stories, and love.

At times like this I am deeply thankful for extended family close by, those who open their homes and their hearts to Sweet William and me. We gladly share in their celebrations with gratefulness.

Though I prepare myself for the absence of others I hold so dear again this year, I find tears moistening my eyes as I think of each one. I have a longing to be with them, to give and receive gifts, to see the expressions of surprise and  happiness on their faces, to feel their hugs and be warmed by their love.

I know I’m not alone. There is longing in hearts this Christmas. Some grieve. Death has taken its toll, and Sweet William and I have visited too many funeral homes this month. Distance keeps people apart. Sometimes it is the miles that separate and sometimes it is unresolved differences.

For whatever reason, we are left holding only our memories when we want to hold those we love close to us, feel their warmth and hear their laughter.

It’s a Christmas longing.  A longing that can leave us feeling empty and bare.

broken vessel

Centuries before, a couple traveled away from home, a great distance for those who journey by foot. The birth of a first-born son would not be celebrated with their families gathered near. What longings did they have? A warm welcome, a comfortable bed, familiar faces, loved ones who would rejoice with them instead of questioning and doubting the angelic message they were given?

This was not how they expected these days to unfold.

Yet, they were in the place God had planned, part of His great design. They were part and parcel of the miracle of Emmanuel. The strong God coming to mankind in a way no one could have envisioned.

The characters of the Christmas story received unexpected favor.

Zachariah and Elizabeth got a son in their old age. Mary’s womb was filled with a miracle. Joseph became a father to God’s own Son. The shepherds were filled with wonder. The wise men were rewarded for their searching hearts upon discovering the King of all kings.

Simeon’s wait for the consolation of Israel was complete as he found God faithful to His promise. Anna’s years of fasting and praying prepared her worshiping heart for this day of discovering the Christ Child.

A heart empty can be filled. Though Christmas longings can leave us feeling lonely and wanting, there is a miracle of love to satisfy all the barren places.  When we give our longings to God, surrender the tears and the wounded heart, open ourselves up in honest hunger for something more, we become vessels to be filled.

Jesus is the gift we need. He is the Gift that gives to overflowing time after time. He fills the hungry with good things. He satisfies fully and makes us glad with the joy of His presence.

Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come in today. Come in to stay.

Let every heart prepare Him room.

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The Lord gives and the Lord takes away

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.

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Even as I write those words my eyes mist with tears.

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I am well acquainted with the givings and the takings of life.  I am sure you are too.  We don’t get very far in our journey without experiencing both.

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Recently, I had another “the Lord takes away” event that has left me with a hole in my heart about the size of three precious grandchildren.

I had 12 terrific years of living across the field from Elyse who is now 14 years old, Celeste who is on the verge of 11, and Ethan who is 9 and a half.  I was close enough to see them in their yard, hear them playing or taking the dogs out for breaks.  They were close enough to hear me whistle at them, and they scanned the horizon looking for me.  We both would wave a great big “hi” and talk loudly to each other.

The “Lord gives” part of this experience filled me to capcity.   How often I felt sad for grandparents who didn’t get to see their grandchildren like I did.  I was allowed the precious privilege of watching them grow from babies to teen, preteen, and big boy status.  I was a “Grammy close by” for many wonderful years and adventures.  Recently, the grandchildren and their parents moved almost 700 miles away.

But I was on the receiving end of the Lord’s giving for 12 wonderful years.

I rocked the babies, cuddled the toddlers, cheered when they learned to walk and talk and use the potty.

I attended soccer games and piano recitals, school talent shows and awards day.  I visited their church when they sang solos on Sunday mornings and Christmas programs.

They put on aprons and helped me prepare food.  We baked cookies and their very first batch of homemade Rice Krispy Treats.  They learned to set the table at my house where we had family birthday and holiday celebrations.

They drank my special blend of Hot Cocoa Mix from the Saturday-morning-after-spending-the-night mugs.  There were always plenty of marshmallows.  They sat on the three stools at our kitchen counter to stir and mix, to pat biscuits, to nibble or eat lunch.  The conversations we had were priceless.  They are my Three Amigos full of smiles and chatter and hugs and “I love you, Grammy.”

I’ve carried their tired bodies to bed.  I’ve bandaged their boo-boos.  I’ve washed their dirty feet after playing outside barefoot, calling it a “foot washing.”  I’ve tucked in their sleepy heads.  I’ve listened to some of the sweetest and funniest prayers at bedtime and at meals.  I’ve prayed prayers of blessing over them, naming their gifts and talents, and asking God to use them for His glory.

I answered questions and helped explain math and told stories about my life when I was a girl.  I rocked them by the fireplace until their legs grew so long that they touched the floor.

I took them to plays, to church, to work.  They accompanied me to the mall, the grocery store, yard sales and Goodwill.

We hit croquet balls, softballs, wiffle balls, basketballs and badminton birdies  in our yard.   I’ve seen chalk drawings all the way down my driveway, art that was too quickly washed away by the rain.  Sweet William and I watched them play the very life out of an appliance box in one afternoon.

They learned to win and be good losers at regular checkers, Chinese checkers, and Jack Straws.   I taught them to play The Game of Life on the same board on which my mother taught my son.

I told them Bible stories and challenged them to live obedient  to God.  We’ve sung praise songs in the car on road trips.  We’ve boogied to the beat of Steven Curtis Chapman or the final song at movie’s end as the credits rolled.  They listened to my classical and worship CDs and learned to appreciate different styles of music.  They were offered musical instruments to play and experiment.

We’ve eaten popcorn while we watched a movie they had seen so many times they could recite the words.  And they did.

We had tea parties and dress up games.  They pretended to be ballerinas, pirates, doctors, mothers and daddies, puppy dogs, kittens, heroes, and damsels in distress.

I could probably go on, but I think you see the picture.  My life has been full and overflowing for 12 years.  The Lord gave.

Now it is time for the rest of the phrase to be my life.  How can I complain when I’ve been blessed with so much, with more than most grandparents have in a lifetime?

At the moment I realize I am very much at the center of my own universe.  It’s all about me right now, my loss, my pain, my loneliness, my tears and how I am going to handle it.

As the leaves begin to die and loosen their connection from the tree, making their way to the ground, I identify and feel myself in an Autumn season.  The fullness and ripeness of summer has given way to the endings of fall.  Winter will come soon this year.

But winter will end, as it always does.  And Spring will break forth in all her glory.  I have to believe in the hope of a spring season.  As one dear friend wrote to me, “I whisper a prayer for you often that God  would . . . comfort your heart and reveal His glory through it all.”

Comfort.  Revelation.  God’s glory through it all.  That’s what I want.  I will wait with hopeful expectation, endure the winter and look toward the spring.

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Broken and spilled out

When I was in my 40s, my nest was suddenly empty. Having only one child means one day the nest is full and the next day it’s empty. Travis went away to college, leaving Sweet William and me to bump around the house alone.

The Lord in His graciousness, knowing how my heart was, filled me up with a group of young people where we attended church. They became a drama team. We began to work on skits and pantomimes, performing at church services, our own and others. We even traveled to Michigan where we put on a workshop for the youth there and performed several times during the weekend.

It was great fun and a lot of trial and error. The kids could drive me absolutely up the wall sometimes. But most of the time, I was so proud of their efforts and their sincerity as they portrayed Bible scenes or humorous skits, all with the purpose of glorifying the Lord.   I so prayed the truth they acted out would take root in their hearts and draw them closer to Jesus.

One of the songs they performed was called Broken and Spilled Out by Gloria Gather. It was made popular by singer Steve Green. The song tells the story of the woman who brought her precious ointment and poured it out on Jesus feet.  The fragrance of the perfume touched the senses of all who were witness to her loving deed that day.  Jesus commended her for her act of love.

I’ve been humming that song a lot lately. It think it must be because I’ve felt broken and spilled out in the last several weeks.

I know I’ve been broken because the tears keep spilling out.

Sweet William and I have been through some trauma together. Recently, it has taken more out of me than I had in reserve.

I’ve given this some thought, and have come to the conclusion that being emptied out can be exceedingly unpleasant.  There is still so much of my self-will left in me.   My flesh and my spirit do battle quite often.

As Paul said in Romans 7, “I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.” (The Message)

There are times I think to myself, “O wretched woman that I am!  Who will deliver me from myself?”

The answer, of course, is Jesus who took all my punishment for my past, present and future sins.  Thanks be to God for the victory He won on the cross!

I am so thankful for the promise that though I am faithless, He remains Faithful! 

I am often struck by the profound thought that God never gives up on me, no matter how long it takes. He is the Potter who is committed to conforming me into the image of Jesus, molding, squeezing, remaking, so that I will reflect Him more and more in my motives, thoughts and actions.  I often think He surely must be getting tired of me by now. 

How many times have I prayed, “Lord, I want to do your will.”  Or “”Make me more like Jesus.”  Or “If you can use anything, Lord, You can use me.”  I’m finding out He takes those kind of prayers seriously and begins to make it happen.  It can be a painful process.

Giving up my own agenda, my own wants and desires, my own will can be likened to the woman who gave her most precious possession.  You see, my self-will is pretty important to me.  It can become my most treasured possession.

Sometimes life takes a turn toward hard and uncertain days or weeks, even years.  It becomes God’s means of molding me, even breaking me if necessary.  I am His project and He will not give up.

The wonder of this brokenness is that it results in more room for the Spirit to fill me up with Himself.   Empty of myself, I can be full of Jesus.   Perhaps it is the way to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ (I Corinthians 2:14).

Ah, now that is a beautiful thought.  It makes being emptied out a transforming and beautiful process.  It means I’m growing, I’m becoming, I’m on my way to reflecting the image of my Savior more and more. 

There isn’t anything else that is more important than that.

Have you been broken and spilled out?  Leave a comment.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Merry Christmas Eve

Speaking of interruptions, (see yesterday’s blog post) I burned the ham I was planning to serve our family for our Christmas Eve dinner. My Sweet William said, ‘Don’t worry about the money. Just go get another ham.” Interruption.

Bill struggled in the bathroom (he’s just had knee surgery) and knocked several things onto the floor. Nothing was broken, but water from a vase went on the floor. Interruption.

After bowls of oatmeal and raisins (the last good-for-us-food we will probably eat today), I donned my Neiman Marcus green felt fedora (a cast off from my cousin – a find for me), hoping to cover the bed-head hair, threw my cape over my PJ’s (actually sweat pants and an old shirt of Bill’s), put on my sunglasses, and set off for Kroger, hoping to see no one I knew.

I quietly asked the Lord for a close parking spot. He gave me one, bless Him! I rattled my memory for the four items I was going to get: ham, a package of dry yeast, whipped cream, and a replacement soap dispenser for the one in the bathroom that quit working this morning. Interruption.

I only saw one person I knew at Kroger. She looked at me with her head slightly turned, smiled and wished me a Merry Christmas. It was the hat, I’m sure.

I grabbed my items quick as I could, trying to be pleasant to other last-minute shoppers like myself. I bought chocolate cream puffs from the frozen section, a substitute for homemade cookies this year.

I went through the self-serve check-out and wished the young man stationed there a “Merry Christmas.” The car trunk popped open with the press of a button, and I deposited my purchases. I took two bascarts back to the store, and a Kroger employee smiled sweetly and said a genuine ‘thank you.’ I smiled as I walked to the car.

At home, I put the new ham in the oven, careful to follow the instructions this time. I went into a food preparation frenzy. In between recipes, I grabbed stockings and stuffed them, put gifts in bags and added some tissue paper hoping they would look OK. It’s been such a busy few days with quite a number of interruptions.

Before the family came, I managed a quick shower and change of clothes, fixed my hair and make-up. Soon the house was full of my loved ones, lots of smiles and laughter, hugs and hearts filled with thankfulness that we have each other. And after all, isn’t that the best Christmas gift of all?

Merry Christmas everyone. Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

Happy Thanksgiving!

What a wonderful country we have where a day is set aside each year to remember, to consider how blessed we are. 

From the pilgrims’ simple beginning to the present day, we are reminded that being thankful on at least one day a year is, as Martha Stewart would say, “a good thing.”

My Sweet William and I drove back our lane to the home of my cousin, Candi May, and her husband, Flavius, today.  Hors d’oeuvres were waiting.  Families began filling the house with their joyful noises.  We missed one precious relative this year, my Uncle Leo Lockard.   His death last February leaves his place forever empty.  My almost 89-year-old dad and step-mother arrived last.  The house bursts with people greeting one another, sampling the snacks, talking and laughing. 

We could barely move through the kitchen as we brought in our special food dishes.  Each one added to a bountiful buffet. 

About 1 pm, it was time for the dinner.  My dad prayed, blessed the food, and asked that we all be ready for the Lord’s second coming.  It is his theme and heart’s desire that all his family are ready for Christ’s return.

Then the real eating began.  We crowded around tables, knees bumping and elbows close so as not to jostle one another.  I wonder how we all fit together.  We are a diverse group, different personalities and different opinions.  The thing that binds us is love, family, and our devotion to each other.

The children got lots of cousin-time, eating all the sweets they could stand.  The adults got their fill and settled in for another cup of Flavius’ good, strong coffee.

The dishes were cleared, the leftovers put away for tomorrow’s Hot Browns.  We relax, talk, share, and remember.

Bill and I brought the grandchildren home with us to spend the night.  Bill began playing the guitar while Ethan accompanied him on the bongo drums.  The rhythm was contagious.  Soon Elyse and Celeste were dancing around the room. 

We wound down by cuddling on the couch and watching Kung Fu Panda, while I typed away at the next blog post.

At movies end, we brushed our teeth, and I tucked the three little/big ones  into bed, saying a prayer of thanksgiving over them.

Ethan snuggled in the downstairs bedroom, hugging his daddy’s old pot-bellied bear.  With sleepy eyes, he said, “I love Thanksgiving.”   And I agree.

The practice of gratitude

Back in 1995 I made a Joy List.  I heard about it somewhere, so I listed the simple things that brought me joy.  Some of the entries went like this:

  • Saturday morning on the deck with a fresh cup of coffee
  • Hummingbirds
  • Listening to the night sounds
  • Daisies in a blue and white pitcher
  • A freshly mown lawn

I would look at that list occasionally and think of the good things in my life and be thankful for them.   In November 2000, I made a new list of things that I appreciated, a second Joy List.  And from then on, it became an annual exercise.  Each November I write down things for which I am thankful, the simple and the grand.  And each year the list has become longer.

Joy Lists, Gratitude Journals, Thanksgiving Lists – they are not new, certainly not an original idea from me.  Anyone can suggest we be grateful for the blessings around us, admonishing us to have an attitude of gratitude.  It is a good idea.  It takes our focus from the problems we deal with.  It makes us look outside ourselves.  It makes us . . . well, thankful.

David, the Psalmist, had it right centuries ago.  His words flow with thanksgiving for the wonders of God, for His forgiveness, for His presence, for His continual grace, and more.

We have entered the busiest time of the year for most people.  Retail employees, UPS package handlers, postal workers, and families with too many events to fit on the calendar will be hustling and bustling around town from now until December 25.  We will all be trying to squeeze one more activity into our lives, one more shopping trip, one more long day at work. 

Gratitude can become lost in it all.

I challenge you to take thirty minutes this Thanksgiving weekend and make a list of the joys in your life.  Not just because it is a healthy activity, but because the God of the universe is worthy to hear us say “Thank You for all You have done for me.”

He is the reason I breath in and out.  He is the One who provides my food and water, my shelter and clothes, my family and my livelihood.  He sets the sun in its place and calls the moon and stars out at night.  He keeps the seasons on schedule (despite daylight savings time!).  He clothes the lily and feeds the birds. He puts thoughts in my head for such a thing as a blog.  He makes it possible for me to think, to reason, to create, and to enjoy life.   He is the presence that sustains me in the harsh realities of life.  He is the strength I need when I think I can’t take another step.  He is the Savior who redeemed me out of darkness.  He is the joy and the hope that awaits me each morning.  He is God.  He is all I have ever needed.  He is I AM!

Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good.  His mercy is everlasting.  His truth endures to all generations.

Bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me, bless His holy name.

 Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all His benefits,

Who forgives all my iniquities, Who heals all my diseases,

Who redeems my life from the pit,

Who crowns me with loving kindness and satisfies me with good things

so that my youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

 Bless the Lord O my soul!

(from Psalm 103)

 

Organizing

I love to organize, pull things out of a drawer or closet, toss out the unnecessary and reposition everything back in a neat, orderly fashion.  I know, I’m weird.  I’ve been this way since I can remember.  As a little girl I kept my toys, dolls, and room neat as a pin without my mother telling me to.  She used to say I was like my Aunt Dottie (Doris Marie Rayhill), a kindred spirit when it came to having things in their place.

I believe I have a natural bent toward being organized.  Somewhere in the dark recesses of my mother’s womb as I was being formed in secret, there was a strong gene, part of my DNA, that stood up and shouted, come on now, let’s get organized.  It will be fun! 

Just recently, I was trying to find something in the cabinet under the bathroom sink.  I had to pull out a few things and soon the contents of the cabinet were all out and I was organizing!  When it all gets put back, I get a rush akin to a runner finishing a race.  I start looking for a closet or drawer to go through next.

With that in mind, you might not guess I am also a pack rat.  I know, I’m weird.  I keep things that have a memory attached to it or something I think I just might need in the future (hopefully I can find it then).  The pack rat in me wars with the organizer in me.  What am I to do with all the stuff I keep keeping?  Where can I put it, out of sight, still keep it orderly, and be able to retrieve it later?  That is the dilemma.

I have determined I have too much stuff.  My stuff is taking too much of my time.  Because, of course, I have to keep finding neat, orderly places for it all.  It’s time to let go, to turn loose.  I have the urge to purge.  I’m in the mood to remove.   

Simplify!  That’s it, I need to simplify.  But wait.  I have company coming next week.  No time to pull out, to review the stuff and decide what to keep and what to discard.  I’ll just stuff it back in the closet until a more convenient time (whenever that is).

There are times the Lord speaks to me to discard the stuff that has cluttered my heart and my attention.  He has dealt with me about bitterness and unforgiveness.  I’ve had to write a letter and apologize for something I did years ago, seeking someone else’s forgiveness.  Sometimes, I want to nudge that still small Voice back into the closet of my heart and wait for a more convenient time.  After all, I have things to do and places to go.  But that Voice is insistent, tender but demanding.  I have to pay attention or my relationship with Him suffers.  It is not that He would draw away from me.  Rather, it would be me turning my heart from Him in rebellion and disobedience if I do not heed the convicting whisper of the Holy Spirit.

Organizing my life, my heart is too much work.  I need the help of a Professional.

Lord, create in me a clean heart.  You who organized the entire universe to operate in an orderly and wonderous fashion, I invite you into every room and closet of my inner-most being.  Go into the dark corners and shine Your light.  Make known to me what should be dealt with, what is displeasing to You.  Make a clean sweep so that Your glory can shine brightly to a world needing to see Jesus.