Tuesday, December 31, 2013

No Resolutions for Me on this Seventh Day of Christmas

Coffee. I know "Give up coffee" is on many resolution lists today. I know because January is a horrible month for my daughter financially. You see, she is a barista. This means she works at a rather well-known coffee shop, and during the month of January their sale of coffee drops to perilous lows. Therefore, the working hours of the baristas are cut. However, if they all can stay with their jobs until February, their working hours will come back. By February, 88 percent of people's resolutions are broken; thus, those who gave up coffee are back to buying cups of caffeinated energy in massive amounts.

I checked for resolutions on the Internet to see if making them is an international affair. Mostly it is a Western activity -- definitely not a third world issue. Who in a third world is making resolutions such as "I will eat less; I will stop accumulating"? But, I digress. This may be a topic for another day. I do live in a country that makes resolutions because we do need to eat less and buy less.

I am not resolving anything this year. Did I mention 88 percent of resolutions are broken within the month? On this seventh day of Christmas, however, I have noticed I have been given 7 of something, and it is not seven swans a-swimming. I have been given seven days in the week, and I'm going to use one of them to rest. The other six I am going to "practice" something that might have been a resolution if I had been so inclined to make a list of resolutions.

If you want to make a list, check out the site that goes with this image above. The Scientific American article includes some great thoughts about making your resolutions specific, attainable, etc. I may even incorporate some of their ideas in my "practices"; mostly, each day will be like a day of practicing for learning any sport or any instrument or anything I have ever wanted to learn.

If I mess up a "resolution," I tell myself what a failure I am -- I am part of the 88 percent of resolution failures.  If I have a bad day at "practice," tomorrow will probably be a little bit better because I will have learned something that I can use to make the next practice inch closer to my goal of improvement.

I'll let you know how this all goes. :D 

Monday, December 30, 2013

On the Sixth Day of Christmas -- A Story of Geese

I was going to give you a funny picture of six geese "a-laying"; except, it used the word "laying" incorrectly, and I just could not bring myself to use it, even in the interest of humor. Instead I am giving you a picture of two geese who were involved in the story I am about to tell. This incident happened almost a year ago, this past January.

My friend and I were prayer walking around our local lake at noon. At the end of our walk, we saw a little boy who was shorter than all of the 30 geese he was chasing! I mean CHASING these geese into the lake, not a sign of fear in his bones. My friend and I immediately looked for a parent because geese are MEAN! Then, I heard the Lord: "That little boy, shorter and weaker than all those geese has them running" and I could see that the geese were moving out of his way. His father was indeed there, although quite a ways back, back far enough that we did not see him at first. It became clear to my friend and I that obviously we have been way too scared of these geese, AND that spiritually we could rout the enemy with our Abba Father supporting us every step of the way. The prayers at the end of our prayer walk were full of His power as we acknowledged this truth.

It does occur to me that just as our loving Father knows our frame, so too we need to know our children and grandchildren. As a allegory, we can take this story and see how often we cower before the enemy when God is there all the time. We can be like this little boy, brave and strong. As for TEACHING children not to fear, I imagine that the dad took into account how his child was made. Did he need to hold his son's hand at first and show him how to move those geese along? Does he have another son who still wants to hang back and his daddy is giving the son time to grow? I'm glad our Daddy knows our frame. If He has allowed something a human would be tempted to fear to come into our lives, then we can also know that He is more than able to lead us, in Him and through Him, to victory. Together we can walk in the Spirit of love, power, and sound mind, and not in a spirit of fear.

I want to remember this story -- not the one of geese a-laying from the Christmas song, but the one where one little person, loving parent behind him (or her), can joyfully run through a gaggle of geese. The little boy carried no stick; he was not mean back at the geese. He simply was not going to allow those geese to boss him around or pick on him. I am goring to practice not letting the "blues," sadness, depressions, boredom, pride, anger, etc., push me around or pick on me.

"Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah. But thou, O Lord, are a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head" (Psalm 3:2-3).

P.S. I love the beauty of geese. They can, however, be extremely assertive (and thus, scary)! 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Birds and Rings on the Fifth Day of Christmas

I could not find a picture of five of these ring-necked pheasant, but these birds were birds of royalty, typically served during a nice 12 Days of Christmas dinner. (Apologies to those who do not eat birds.) This bird is probably the gift of choice from one true love on the Fifth Day of Christmas. This should be good news for those who try to buy all the gifts from the twelve days of Christmas -- I am assuming five pheasants might cost less than five gold rings (also assuming the rings were truly gold).

A change from birds to jewelry is not the only change this song has made over the years. Some want to make it a song full of symbolism.  Snopes.com makes an excellent case that this was a French song (partridges not being introduced into Britain until after the origin of the song) that was probably part of a "memory and forfeits" game (we've played such games with the letters or with learning people's names). The first person says the first line, the second says the first and second line, the third person says the first, second, and third, and on down the line.

This makes a good deal of sense to me. I particularly like how the couple who run Snopes close their article:

Nonetheless, plenty of writers continue to expound upon "the beauty and truly biblical and spiritual meanings locked away in this wonderful song that puts Christ into Christmas where he doesn't appear to be." Perhaps those who consider this tale to be "beautiful" and "inspirational" (despite its obviously dubious truthfulness) should consider its underlying message: That one group of Jesus' followers had to hide their beliefs in order to avoid being tortured and killed by another group of Jesus' followers. Of all the aspects of Christianity to celebrate at Christmastime, that doesn't sound like a particularly good one to emphasize. 
Read more at http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/music/12days.asp#4zhwlZlp1pgiOpYx.99

I really would rather think of this song as a game. I also like the idea that the five golden rings are birds. Although the Bible does sometimes mention jewels and gold is a positive light (think of Revelations 21), mankind tends to fight over it, use it as a way to entice, or to rank people.

Birds, on the other hand, do not fall to the ground without God seeing. He cares for them, and He says He cares for each of us even more than He cares for the birds (and He cares for them a lot).

Short post today. I think I'm going to go birdwatch where I feel the presence of God in a way that I don't when I sit staring at gold.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Fourth Day of Christmas and Still Sending Out Christmas Cards

As those of you know who have endlessly sung or heard "The Twelve Days of Christmas" song throughout December, on the fourth day of Christmas, someone's true love sent her "four calling birds," except they weren't originally "calling" birds -- they were "colly" birds which means they were black birds (but not, presumably, the four and twenty baked in a pie). I liked this image because I am still sending out Christmas cards -- more on that in a moment. I want to give credit where credit is due, and the artist who drew this allows for use in blogs with a proper link, so here it is:


I do not actually like to use the telephone. The advent of text messaging was a gift to me. I don't know why I don't like the phone -- maybe because I know how to start the conversation, but I've always found ending one awkward. However, I want to stay in touch with people. Facebook, with all its drawbacks, and e-mails have allowed me to reconnect with family (some of whom I have never met in person) and with friends in New Zealand, England, Thailand, and Russia to name a few.

Still, a card or a letter coming by what some of us now call "snail" mail is a delight and a treasure -- something beautiful to hold in one's hand, something to read and re-read and re-read again. I wonder how much we would know about the past if everything had gone through e-mails. Would I even have Frank Laubach's words (something I have been doing this past Advent and about which I have blogged) to ponder if he had sent them all back home via email?

One might think then that I am a great communicator. I am not. But I want to be. I try to be. I start off sending Christmas cards, squeezing in a few extra days via the twelve days of Christmas, and when I run out of Christmas days, I try to send a few more via New Year's Day. After that I hope to send out Valentine's greetings.

Why does it matter? People matter. People have been a part of my life since the day I was born, and while I can be excused for not being aware of their presence in the early years, I regret not being fully aware of the aliveness of each person in my life. Aliveness is probably not a word -- ohhh, it is, and I love it. It is an Old English word meaning "in life." I was not aware that people were in life and they were in my life!

Sandra Cisneros's book The House on Mango Street opened my eyes to thinking about people in my life and wondering where they are: Diane, Darcy, Victor, Salvador, Leslie, Cecilia…my house on Main Street; Kathy, Rachel, Joe, Elly…the big house on Westwood; Barbara, Steve, Tom…the little cabin on Pine Street (yes, I am not joking -- I did live in a little cabin) and on it goes. Some people I have reconnected with, especially those from my older years. And, so, I send cards and letters.

To say: You matter. You are important to me. You are beautiful. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Our Joy is Daily; Our Joy is Full -- The Third Day of Christmas

Our wise men / kings / Magi travel after Christmas to symbolize that their journey happened after Jesus was born and Mary and Joseph were in some sort of housing. Sometimes there are presents on "Little Christmas" -- the grandchildren always hope so.

This one apparently has to deal with a horse…and, ahem, dust. I could write that it represents desert sands, but basically it tells the story of a woman who would rather read the books on her bookshelves than dust said shelves.

Yes, we have three. Not because we know there were three (we do not, but we know there were at least two), but because the set came with three. :D And, all of them are currently traveling past many words. Wise men throughout the centuries have traveled through many words. Only one was THE WORD.

A man wrote of the Word and his name was John. Today is the the Feast Day of John. I don't want to lead you into thinking I necessarily celebrate feast days of the saints, but I have family and friends who do. Since I have my own feast days (two as a matter of fact: Birthday and Mother's Day), I think it rather cool (no one says "cool" anymore, do they?) to celebrate John's day.

John preached a Christmas sermon; although, it's not titled that in my Bible.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men"  (John 1:1-4).

"And the Word became 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 bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.'" And of His fullness we have all received and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:14-17).

Boom! (As my granddaughter would say…I think it means "Super cool" or "There! Beat that!")

Jesus: there from the beginning, God, all things made through Him, life, light, the Word became flesh. He came as a baby, grew up, dwelt among us and John and the rest beheld His glory, full of grace and truth. Grace and truth, beautiful words; beautiful Word.

John wanted us to know how they saw Him, how they heard Him.

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life -- the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us -- that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full" (1 John 1: 1-4).

They saw Jesus, fully human, fully God, and John writes so that our joy may be full. Our joy doesn't end on Christmas Day. Our joy is daily; our joy is full.

In the beginning of this blogging adventure, I intended to connect with Frank Laubach's letters -- sometimes that has worked out, sometimes not. But, today, I will end with comments from the twelfth of October and the twenty-second of September:

"How I wish, wish, wish that a dozen or more persons who are trying the experiment of holding God endlessly in mind would all write their experiences so that each would know what the other was finding as a result! The results, I think, would astound the world." 

"We have got to saturate ourselves with the rainbows and the sunset marvels in order to radiate them. It is as much our duty to live in the beauty of the presence of God on some mount of transfiguration until we become [bright] with Christ as it is for us to go down where they grope, and grovel, and groan and lift them to new life. After all the deepest truth is that the Christlike life is glorious, undefeatably glorious." 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

No Christmas Blues Here -- The Second Day of Christmas

I wasn't going to blog today. Well, yes, I did already blog if you count my From Blog to Pin which I only started because I could not figure out how to pin my own pictures to Pinterest. So, I blogged / pinned my Gluten-free Caramel Brownie Fudge. Then, I ended up reading a blog about how the First Day of Christmas is Christmas Day, NOT the day after Thanksgiving. Some people start taking everything down on the Second Day of Christmas. I decided to embrace the twelve days of Christmas. Actually, my family usually embraces the full season of Christmas because no one ever gets all their packages mailed on time. Nonetheless…

I decided to decorate some more! The granddaughters are going to love it. I also listened to a podcast on St. Stephen's Day. For those who celebrate Feast Days, this day celebrates the first martyr of the Christian faith, which sounds rather negative for the day after Christmas!

However, it is a good reminder that Jesus did not stay a baby. He grew; He taught; He saved us through taking our place. And, people believed. People like Stephen, a man full of the faith and the Holy Spirit.

At his death, Stephen said: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, forgive them." Some of us might need to do some forgiving the day after Christmas (and, dare I write it, some of us might need to ask forgiveness). Family gatherings aside, what a great way to end the year and start the new year afresh by forgiving those who harmed us this year and by relinquishing those circumstances and situations that make us bitter and angry people. What a great way to start the new year in peace.

And, just because I need to include two pictures in this post when I share it, here is a picture of the Gluten-free Caramel Brownie Fudge. You might want to gather the family together and make some. :D


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Empty Stable, Now Filled -- The First Day of Christmas

Mary and Joseph have finally made it to the stable. 

Happy Birthday, Jesus! 

The angel has made his announcement; the shepherds are on their way (in our case, the shepherd is).

Little is much when God is in it. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Day 24 of Advent and I Forgot to Title This Post: Good Thing Christmas Doesn't Rely on Me to Keep it Going

The glory of Christmas, specifically the glory of Christ, is not limited to Christmas card moments.

"Hope is the Jesus gift, Love is the offering, Everywhere, Anywhere, Here on earth."

These lines came from a New Zealand Christmas carol. I'm blessed to have a friend who lives there. My friend Sue and I share warm Christmases. Mine is warm because my wintertime is typically warm with only a rare snow every twenty years or so. She has a warm Christmas because it is summer down under the equator!

"Sing a nativity summer can reach… Right side up Christmas belongs to the universe."

I don't know the tune, but I'm loving the song. Here are the full lyrics with some "warm" Christmas pictures, one of which is our Christmas tree, now inside but still "undressed." If you did not do all the decorating you wanted to do, nor all the baking, then go to the link I include at the end where you can read that Christmas is sometimes more found among the homeless than in any shopping mall or theology class.

1. Carol our Christmas, an upside down Christmas; 
The snow is not falling and trees are not bare. 
Carol the summer, and welcome the Christ Child,
Warm in our sunshine and sweetness of air.

Sing of the gold and the green and the sparkle,
Water and river and lure of the beach.
Sing in the happiness of open spaces,
Sing a nativity summer can reach!

2. Shepherds and musterers move over hillsides.
Finding not angels but sheep to be shorn;
Wise ones make journeys whatever the season.
Searching for signs of the truth to be born.

Right side up Christmas belongs to the universe,
Made in the moment a woman gives birth;
Hope is the Jesus gift, love is the offering,
Everywhere, anywhere, here on the earth.

3. Carol our Christmas, an upside down Christmas;
Snow is not falling and trees are not bare.
Carol the summer, and welcome the Christ Child,
Warm in our sunshine and sweetness of air.

And, now for that link (I know…me and links don't always work out, but you can always copy and paste it :D)


May your celebration of the birth of our Saviour be filled with a joyous wonder of who He is and that, truly, life in Him is filled with His glory and His peace -- a peace that passes all understanding.  

P.S. Had to go back and add a title; then as December 24 comes to a close, I realized I posted this as Day 23…it has been that kind of a day; nonetheless, Christmas is coming! :D

Monday, December 23, 2013

In the Midst of Circumstances, Chaos, Confusion, Conflict, Comes Christmas -- Day 23 of Advent

Mary and Joseph are almost there. The fireplace is in sight. There's still the little matter of getting up to the mantle; nonetheless, that baby is coming. Christmas is coming. I can either keep my eyes on Christ and joyfully adore Him or let my eyes sink into the sin and sadness that surrounds me. I am not a Pollyanna…well, maybe I would like to be. We think of Pollyannas as people who only see good; therefore, these people are no help with the injustices in the world. That is a false picture of Pollyanna. A grouchy grinchy old man was clearly mean, but in the perseverance of Pollyanna's love, he softened. Seems like I remember a conflict in town. Thinking good of people did not stop Pollyanna from coming up with beneficial ideas in the midst of conflict.

I did not think I would be returning to Frank Laubach's letters (such a journey I thought I would take connecting his letters with each day of Advent!), but I find in his October 12 letter an illustration of how drawing close to God did not leave Laubach helpless to face the world: "And to think that less than a year ago we were writing about 'the most difficult place under the American flag, if not in the world!' [Lanao]….Worries have faded away like ugly clouds, and my soul rests in the sunshine of perpetual peace. I can lie down anywhere in this universe, bathed around by my own Father's Spirit. The very universe has come to seem so homey! I know only a little more about it than before, but that little is all! It is vibrant with the electric ecstasy of God!"

Laubach learned of great joy under pressure of great trial. Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" often shows us at Christmas concerts and services.  Henry Van Dyke wrote words for it that many know under the title of Hymn 89 -- "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee." We sang it this past Sunday, and I promptly wrote myself a note to include it in the blog because the hymn includes angels and God of glory. Singing it caused me to feel at peace.

Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, 
God of glory, Lord of love; 
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee, 
Opening to the sun above. 
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; 
Drive the dark of doubt away. 
Giver of immortal gladness, 
Fill us with the light of day.

That's what God's glory brings to me: a melting of clouds of sin and sadness.

All thy works with joy surround thee, 
Earth and heaven reflect they rays, 
Stars and angels sing around thee, 
Center of unbroken praise. 

Field and forest, vale and mountain, 
Flowery meadow, flashing sea, 
Chanting bird and flowing fountain 
Call us to rejoice in thee. 

Thou art giving and forgiving, 
Ever blessing, ever blest, 
Well-spring of the joy of living, 
Ocean depth of happy rest! 
Thou our Father, Christ our brother, 
All who live in love are thine; 
Teach us how to love each other, 
Lift us to the joy divine. 

Yes. As I am taught how to love, I will have peace brought by Christ, remembered every Christmas, in the midst of circumstance, chaos, confusion and conflict. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Host of Angels -- Day 22 of Advent

We finally come to the final Sunday in Advent. The last candle, the Angels' Candle (not always called this, but many do), is lit. I have read that it represents "peace" even though I also read that one or more of the previous candles represented peace. As I travel through this Advent season, I am getting a feel for how I am drawn in at each stage of Advent. I can see where this candle would be the Angels candle, the peace candle, and also, the glory candle…not that I read of anyone calling it the glory candle.

Along with the shepherds we have angels. Actually, come to think of it, angels have figured in quite a bit: an angel spoke to Zacharias (John the Baptist's dad, Elisabeth's husband, Mary's cousin), to Mary, to Joseph, to the shepherds, and to Joseph again, so I think an angel candle is fitting.

But, I don't think any of the angels looked like this angel, even though I think this card which our family received this year is beautiful.

Nor do I think any looked like this angel on a card we received last year. People were extremely afraid when they saw an angel or an army of angels. The shepherds were "sore afraid." The angel greeting them said,"Fear not." Angels are always saying, "Fear not." There must be a reason why they say, "Fear not." So, it is rather strange to me that the angel candle is associated with peace. Yet, peace is what the angels spoke over the shepherds as the heavenly host praised God.

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:14).

God's intentions have always included peace on earth, good will toward men. It is our own power struggles and greed that causes a lack of peace. We want what we want and when we don't get what we want, we fight for it. Jesus came to show a better way, a way of life and truth and grace.

"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).

"Sing, choirs of angels, Sing in exultation, Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above;
Glory to God in the highest; O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord." 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Lord is My Shepherd -- Joy on Day 21 of Advent

This is the envelope for one of my Christmas cards. It's beautiful. The entire card was designed by Susan Winget for the Lang company (no relationship, but I wish I was related -- I love their products).

Before I leave the Shepherds' Candle, and move on tomorrow to the Angels' Candle, I am reminded that the Lord is my shepherd.

My view of God is not meant to stay on Jesus as a baby, one sign that in His full divinity, He is also fully human. Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and was the perfect Shepherd. "I am the good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

Psalm 23 (22 in some of my international friends' Bibles) -- "The Lord is My Shepherd" is often said at services for the dead, but it is too often not remembered as a psalm for living joyfully here and now. A couple months ago, my classmates and I were challenged to make this psalm our own. I used to have my own students do this with poetry -- to write a poem modeled after the poem of some famous poet. It helped them not only write poetry but also to understand what the poet was saying.

I've received the forwarded emails about "Jesus is my shepherd; now that's relationship", and on through the psalm. The email somewhat does the analytical work for me. Exercises like these also make me realize that Jesus is not just a literal shepherd making me lie down in literal green pastures. He is 100 percent skillful at any job, and He is available to help me!

A friend knew I was struggling with some traveling issues. This is what she sent back to me:

"The Lord is my chauffeur. I am in utterly safe hands. He knows where I need to be; yet, he never hurries me. He helps me get myself together. He is unerring in his choice of road. In fact, he is famous for it. Even if I were caught up in a huge traffic jam or an accident, I would not have to worry for he always makes my ultimate welfare his priority. He would be there to calm me down and show me the right thing to do next. He packs an amazing picnic and lays it out in style. He always treats me with courtesy and respect--even in front of people who do not. He does more than I can ever ask of him. I know that I can rely on his capable and caring attention 24/7 and that I will travel with him always." (Thanks, Alison!)

What do you and I need help with today from our good shepherd, our chauffeur, our executive CEO, our Mother's Helper, our God who knows us and loves us and calls us His beloved sheep? He is there for us. "In His presence is the fullness of joy."

Friday, December 20, 2013

God Loves Nobodies -- Joy on Day 20 of Advent

I'm nobody! Who are you? 
Are you nobody, too? 
Then there's a pair of us -- don't tell! 
They'd banish us, you know. 

I've always loved this Emily Dickinson poem. Maybe that wouldn't be the case if I was a Somebody. However, as I was reviewing the Christmas story, I realized who God called to the major roles in this story: Women in a time and place when women were nobodies (and even today, a teenage girl and old woman do not hold the highest status) and shepherds (do you know any shepherds making front page news?). 

Granted, Joseph and Zacharias (Elisabeth's husband) are definitely a part of the story, but really most of the speaking parts (pardon my pun) go to Mary and Elisabeth. And, let's talk about Mary and Joseph's relationship with his family. They travel approximately 85 miles to be taxed in his own city because Joseph was "of the house and lineage of David" and the "city of David is called Bethlehem." Now, all of his family could have moved away, but then that means they would all need to return to Bethlehem also to be taxed, wouldn't it? Were all of his family members dead? Why am I asking this? Because Mary winds up giving birth in a stable! If you have family members who would put you up in the equivalent of a stable when you come to town for Christmas Day, then just consider yourself in good company. 

Next point: A heavenly host of angels (this means an army of angels) come to announce the birth of our Saviour, Christ the Lord, first to…shepherds. Think about it. This year we have seen the birth of a future king of England, and I guarantee the announcement of the birth did not go first to shepherds. 

God loves nobodies. He delights in taking the most unlikely people and transforming their lives. When Jesus gives his sermon on the mountain (Matthew 5), he shocks the established religious leaders. He is speaking before a multitude of nobodies, and he essentially says to them: the kingdom of heaven is for you. You don't have to be a rabbi or a Pharisee or a Sadducee or wealthy. You're poor in spirit, but I've come to bring you life. You are grieving, and I have come to comfort you. You are without power, and I've come to strengthen you. 

You are a nobody, but I am not banishing you. I'm here to love you. I'm here to give you the kingdom of God. I'm here to give you a purpose and reason for your life. You are my beloved child. 

I was going to tie this in to Frank Laubach (who was essentially a nobody -- a lonely missionary on the field who met God in an amazingly intimate way, wrote about it, and now years later, his letters bless us as they call us into that incredible relationship with God), but I'm going to just finish with two pictures: one of one of my beloved children, when he was little, just having great joy in building a snowman, and years later, when I was at my dad's in New Hampshire, just a little snow fell, and I rushed out, a nobody dressed in hiking boots, pajamas and robe, covered with a coat, just to feel the joy of being in the snow and building a snowman. 

Joy to you! Joy to the World! Our Lord has come!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Get Out of My Way; You're Blocking My Joy! -- Day 19 of Advent

Poor Mary and Joseph! Yesterday they finally made it down the hallway only to be blocked. Sometimes my journey to joy feels this way. I finally get somewhere and something (or someone!) is blocking my path…or at least that's the way it feels. Actually, this gate is protecting Mary and Joseph from the wild beast (aka the dog).

Don't they look so free today? However, I have had to rescue them multiple times from being eaten or rocked over (as they stand/kneel at the base of the rocking chair). At Christmas time I am more aware of how I count on life to be "perfect" before I can be joyful. God tells me to "slow down" and "be present" to people, and I see this as an obstacle, just like the gate above. After all, I am rushing to the next joyful experience.

In my case today, I was rushing to get the best seat (aka cafeteria bench) in the house to watch my granddaughter's play. She was the princess with her own solo -- proud grandma moment and no one, I mean NO ONE was going to get in my way of joyfully video-tapping her 15 minutes of fame. Of course, this would be the morning I was running late. I had to get the dog out to her dog run / outdoor kennel, and I was rushing. You're expecting this story to get gruesome, aren't you? No. Not this year. Last year, I had the same situation except I was rushing to get over to the post office where I was ringing the bells for the Salvation Army collection. Last year, I tripped and fell first hitting my knee (which I thought I broke), then my wrist (which I thought I broke), and finally my nose and mouth (which I thought I broke). Nothing was broken, but my lips were swollen three times their actual size and I rang the bells in that shape. (I must say I collected more money than I had ever done before!) I remembered that fall and the pain as my rushing turned into a slow walk. And, I made it just fine to my granddaughter's performance. In fact, the people who were a lot later than I was made it just fine to the performance and everyone was able to see. No need for pushing and shoving.

Interestingly, I also remembered a friend who blogged about wasting so much time with the video equipment that she really did not "see" her child. So, I tried diligently to just hold up the camera but to look, really look, with my eyes at my granddaughter and her class. It truly is possible to slow down, be present, and have joy all at the same time. I could name other "obstacles" but I think you get the picture…and I'll keep this short today. I know you have much to accomplish today, just like I do. Let's have some joy while we are at it. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

O Come, Emmanuel - (Piano/Cello) - ThePianoGuys

Practical Joy -- Day 18 of Advent

One word and image kept popping up in my mind as I read Frank Laubach's letters, as I thought of the journey of the shepherds, as I watch my granddaughters move Mary and Joseph ever closer to their destination -- "Walking." With that word and image, I decided to write a practical post today. When we say "practical," we often mean "useful, get it done, activities." I hope my previous posts have been useful, but they have tended to focus on my goals or my attitude -- what I choose to think upon. I want to use the simpler definition of practical -- "of or pertaining to practice or action" -- in this case the action of walking, of slowing down…Oops! Maybe I should not have written that last phrase. We are busily trying to finish up whatever we need to finish up before Christmas Day arrives. All Mary and Joseph had to do was walk to Bethlehem, nine months pregnant no less.

There's something about walking that is good for the heart, both the physical heart and the emotional heart. I don't mean the kind of power walking that is really running but keeping legs fairly straight, feet on the ground so that one can be first in line without the teacher yelling, "No running!" Or, so that one can be first to the checkout stand. Yesterday I was in an "everything you can think of to buy" store, and the lines were long and getting longer. A checkout stand opened up, and the man standing in the line next to me said to me, "Go ahead. I'm retired. I can wait." At that moment about 15 people (with their carts) started rushing to get to the open stand. I replied, "You know, I've found out that I'm in a much better mood if I just be patient." I don't need to move at the pace of a snail, but whenever I find my heart racing and my mood turning sour, I know that I need to slow down my pace.

The picture above shows where I normally walk around a small local lake. The lake is not full right now; in fact, currently I walk around a dry lake bed. Still, just getting out to walk brings back peace and joy into my life. When I had four children underfoot at home, I could still get out by way of backpacks and strollers to walk around the block. In Russia, it was a joy to walk the little ones around the block.

I have no night time walking pictures to show you, so you will have to imagine Mary and Joseph who are often shown walking at night, and the shepherds hurrying off to Bethlehem after their night time wake up call by the angels (but, honestly, how fast can one walk with sheep -- fast, but surely not running), and Frank Laubach as he walks and talks with God in the cool of the evening.

"I have just returned from a walk alone, a walk so wonderful that I feel like reducing it to a universal rule, that all people ought to take a walk every evening all alone where they can talk aloud without being heard by anyone, and that during this entire walk they all ought to talk with God, allowing Him to use their tongue to talk back -- and letting God do most of the talking" (22 June 1930).

As a teacher of high schoolers, my mind automatically runs to the "but, Mrs. Lang…" comments. So, if you are unable to walk, can someone get you outside to sit? Can you look out a window? If you are bed-ridden, you are reading this on a computer; therefore, take a virtual walk or a walk within your memories as you listen to beautiful music. If I can (computer illiterate that I am), I will include a link to a beautiful song with piano and cello. Joy comes as we practice it.

Additional note: I could not figure out how to put the link within this post. However, I somehow managed to give it a post of its own, which will either be before this post or after it. (I choose joy…and will keep working with gaining more computer skills :D)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I Choose Joy -- Day 17 of Advent

I don't always choose joy. Instead of sleeping last night, I was worrying about what I was going to write today. I kept considering titles and tossing them aside. When I finally fell asleep, I dreamed that I had attended a Christmas party but forgot to bring a gift for the gift exchange. It was a restless night. If I had been one of the shepherds hearing the good news at night, I probably would have been worried about moving the sheep in the dark. I'm a morning person; I can see "joy comes in the morning," but "I bring you good news of great joy" in the middle of the night -- not usually.

I'm better at choosing joy than I used to be. That may not be saying much since I still fail so many times each day; nonetheless, I am making progress. If you have been reading this blog (thank you, Mom) and know that I have been trying to post everyday, you noticed I missed on Sunday and doubled up yesterday. It was tempting to look at how I failed. But I also had the option of choosing joy: I wrote 14 days in a row! That is a first for me. On Monday, I managed to eek out another post, and here I am again.

Already this week, I have had multiple times of choosing between joy and not-joy. The picture below is my Christmas tree. If you think this tree looks like it is planted outside, you are correct.

This tree has to come out of the ground because it is growing too close to the birch trees and too close to wires. Therefore, it might as well be our Christmas tree. However, those of us who celebrate Christmas on December 25 have only 8 days left to get presents under the tree. My tree is still outside. (I've tried to talk my family into January 7, to no avail.) Do I want to choose joy or not-joy?

To not choose joy is counter-productive. When I don't choose joy, my mind seems to be paralyzed by whatever it is that I'm upset about: a lost note, long lines to stand in, a long list with still much to do, and I end up accomplishing LESS than if I had chosen joy. When I choose joy, my circumstances may remain the same, but my mind, body, and heart are released from paralysis and can choose creativity and/or peace.

I want to close by returning to a couple of comments Frank Laubach makes in his letters. He notices time and time again how he thinks more clearly during those times when his mind is on God.

"This concentration upon God is strenuous, but everything else has ceased to be so. I think more clearly, I forget less frequently. Things which I did with a strain before, I now do easily and with no effort whatever. I worry about nothing, and lose no sleep. I walk on air a good part of the time. Even the mirror reveals a new light in my eyes and face. I no longer feel in a hurry about anything…Each minute I meet calmly…I find also that the effort to keep God in my mind does something to my mind which every mind needs to have done to it. I am given something difficult enough to keep my mind with a keen edge. The constant temptation of every man is to allow his mind to grow old and lose its edge. I feel that I am perhaps more lazy mentally than the average person, and I require the very mental discipline which this constant effort affords."

I choose Jesus. I choose joy. And, I find that my mind is more present. I find that my heart is lifted out of the doldrums, and my body can pick itself up and move -- even if it means walking in the middle of the night with sheep bleating toward a stable where a little baby lies wrapped in swaddling clothes. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

What Sign Will It Take For Us To Have Joy? -- Day 15 and 16 of Advent

This is where our shepherd and his sheep wait while Mary and Joseph journey to "Bethlehem" (aka fireplace mantle). Our lone shepherd keeps vigilant watch until good news comes to him.

"In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for see -- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger'" (Luke 2:8-12).

Obviously the shepherds' first thought was not good news of great joy when an angel stood before them. They were terrified. Yet, this week of Advent, we celebrate using the Shepherds' Candle -- the Candle of Joy. I am distracted as I write this. A little bird (pictured below) keeps flying into my window.

I've heard of birds flying into windows before, and I read that I should put up stickers so that they would know they were flying into a window (not that I thought my windows were so crystal clear). So, I did. Clearly, I posted a sign: "This is a window." The bird has continued to fly into it. I stood in front of the window. A sign: "People live here." I put the stickers on the outside of the  window. Maybe the bird is someone's escaped house bird. So, I tried to entice it. I tried capturing it. Nothing is working. I tried turning lights on in the house. I tried darkening the house. I tried chasing the bird away. Sign after sign. Your joy is not found in flying into this window. It is elsewhere, little bird.

Finally, silence. I cautiously look to see if the bird is lying on the ground. It is not, and I am thankful. Maybe this is just what I needed to write about today. How often do I ignore the signs? Something happens out of the ordinary, out of my comfort zone, maybe just out of my accustomed way of doing things, whether comfortable or not, and I am terrified. Then, I continue to insist on flying the route I want to fly instead of seeing all the signs: Good news of great joy -- go the way of your Savior, your Messiah, your Lord. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Where Are You? -- Day 14 of Advent

Poor Mary and Joseph. Much of the gain they had made was taken away when the youngest granddaughter came over and moved them back to the Little People house. It took me awhile to find them. "KK," I said, "Where are Mary and Joseph?"

I didn't know this was what I was going to write about today. I had actually planned two days ago on going a different direction, but then Mary and Joseph got lost, and suddenly I find myself writing about "Where are you; where am I, this Advent season?" I was very tempted to add in a joke about not asking directions, but I won't go there.  We all get lost or decide to return to the familiar in our journeys toward the unknown.  

And, God, ever so gracious, comes seeking us. Today, I want to treat you to the words of two of my favorite authors. The first, Trevor Hudson and the second, Frank Laubach.

"The other day I listened to someone tell the story of his spiritual journey. He described how, after years of searching in different directions, he had eventually found God. I had mixed feelings about his use of the phrase 'found God.' On the one hand, there is a certain truth to this. We do search for God. On the other hand, we are also the ones who hide away. Nonetheless God is always trying to find us. This is the good news of the creation story. When we hide from God, God comes seeking, calling out to each one of us, 'Where are you?'

"This question leads us deeply into the searching heart of God. It reminds us that God always pursues us in love. Nothing can ever extinguish the flame in God's heart that burns to be in personal relationship with us. Even when we mess up and get terribly lost. When God asks us where we are, it is as if God is saying to you and me, 'Where are you? I am missing you. My heart aches for you. I want to reconnect intimately with you. I grieve over the distance between us. I long for your companionship, and I will search for you until I find you'" (Questions God Asks Us).

Almost 80 years prior to Hudson writing, Frank Laubach wrote: "I walk out in the street full of Moros, and if my soul is as full of God as it sometimes is, I see what happens as I look into their eyes and pray for them. No man need try to persuade me that God does not reach them, for I see the thing happen, and now I know that every person we ever meet is God's opportunity if only, if only we were not so much of the time shut off from God.

"Last Monday was the most completely successful day of my life to date so far as giving my day in complete surrender to God is concerned -- though I shall hope for far better days -- and I remember how as I looked at people with a love God gave, they looked back and acted as though they wanted to go with me. I felt then that for a day I saw a little of that marvelous pull that Jesus had as He walked along the road day after day, 'God-intoxicated' and radiant with the endless communion of His soul with God'"(15 June 1930).

When God asks me, "Where are you?" oh, that I may reply, whether I am waiting or traveling, "Here, Lord! Right here, clinging to You!" And, may I, as I cling to Him,  look with His same love at everyone else with me on this journey called life.

* artwork from beliefnet.com

Waiting with Joy? Excuse Me? -- Day 13 of Advent

Waiting…waiting…waiting…I. am. waiting. for. this. week. to. end! Writing a blog daily poses a couple of problems for me. My standard mode of operation includes procrastination which I have been unable to practice. My other problem is "Waiting." I am running out of words to write about waiting. I'm ready to move on to JOY.

What? Did I just hear one of you say there can be joy in waiting? No, we can't have joy. I can have peace, and faith, and hope, but no joy. That can only happen next week with the Shepherd's candle. Thank you very much.

I woke up this morning remembering that the little boy in this picture is now my grown up thirty-five year old son. The thirty years seem like a mere inhale and exhale. Yes, those thirty years included sorrow and sadness, but from my vantage point now, how I wish I had not, well, wished those days to move faster. Or, perhaps I should write, how I wished I had searched for and clung to every bit of joy that was there, sometimes hidden like a jewel, sometimes right out in the open, but my focus was too much on how I was barely hanging on.

Twelve more days until Christmas and the only sign of Christmas in my house is the empty stable on the fireplace (a fireplace that appears to be having structural issues), the shepherd watching his sheep on the piano, and Mary and Joseph on the move -- here clinging to the ledge of a bed foot board. Obviously, this Mary and Joseph are going to need a little help getting down. Me, too. When I'm out on a ledge waiting, I need a little help, too. I find it by waiting with the Psalms. I started to go right to Psalm 16 (one of my favorites) but my eye was drawn to Psalm 17 this morning: "I will call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words. Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand. Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings…As for me I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness" (6-8,15).

As I wrote those verses two songs built around that psalm came to mind, and I think of how music has played a part in bringing me joy in the waiting. And, when I ponder further, don't we play Christmas music throughout the month of December to help with the waiting for Christmas Day?

Yes, joy is available for me in the waiting: if I will look for it; if I will remember that time passes so quickly. What seems like waiting, waiting, waiting, will be gone quickly, and I don't want to miss one moment of joy or one moment of seeking refuge in God and waking in the morning beholding His likeness.

Now, my granddaughter has arrived, and I am going to go play! 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pregnant With..... -- Day 12 of Advent

Two days ago I wrote of Mary's difficulties. Today, I write of her ease. Her ease in keeping her mind on Jesus. She was pregnant with Jesus. She physically carried him inside of her for nine months. To be pregnant is to be filled. Pregnant with desire is full of desire; pregnant with hope, full of hope. Pregnant pauses are full of meaning; they're significant. An historically pregnant time is of great importance or meaning. And, a pregnant decision produces results; it's fruitful. Being pregnant, how could Mary not keep her mind on Jesus?

In 1930, Frank Laubach wrote of his plan to keep his mind on Jesus. On June 3, he starts his letter in the following way: "This experiment which I am trying is the most strenuous discipline which any man ever attempted. I am not succeeding in keeping God in my mind very many hours of the day, and from the point of view of experiment number one, I should have to record a pretty high percentage of failure. But the other experiment -- what happens when I do succeed-- is so successful that it makes up for the failure of number one. God does work a change."

At the beginning of one's pregnancy, one hardly notices a change...until the morning sickness hits. Some few lucky ones never have the morning (or evening) trips to the bathroom to vomit out every bit of food they just managed to eat. Others experience such trips every waking moment of the day. It is not hard to keep one's mind on what is growing inside, but it may not be that heavenly moment of which others have spoken. Usually within that next month, the baby's movements can be felt -- just a little flutter here, then there. So amazing to think of this little one growing inside.

I could hardly wait with each of my children to feel those first movements, and to constantly be aware of their presence.

Then, as the last three months of pregnancy are entered, the baby grows so big that his presence can not be ignored by Mary. Nine months of waiting and being ever mindful of Jesus growing inside. Nine months filled with choices ("Be it unto me"; What will Joseph do?), a journey to Bethlehem, and then, birth in a rough-hewn shelter for animals. Mary does not have an easy life, but she has this constant awareness of Immanuel, God with her.

Laubach writes: "'Can it [keeping one's mind on Jesus] be done all the time?' Hardly. 'Does the effort [keeping aware] help?' Tremendously. Nothing I have ever found proves such a tonic to mind and body....The most important discovery of my whole life is that one can take a little rough cabin and transform it into a palace just by flooding it with thoughts of God." 

A place for animals in a little place like Bethlehem becomes a palace when Jesus is in it.
"But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting"  (Micah 5:2 which was repeated to Herod when Herod sought Jesus so he could kill this new "ruler" -- Matthew 2:3-6).

My place, my condition, my circumstances become pregnant with significance and meaning when I wait and look for the appearance of Jesus in my life every moment of the day.

* The art in today's blog comes from the hands of Jason Jenicke, Sandro Botticelli, and Sassoferrato. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Expectantly Waiting Gone Wrong -- Day 11 of Advent

I have a naughty child story. Unfortunately, I was the naughty child. One birthday I asked for electric curlers (this was before electric curling irons were commonly used). I waited for my birthday to arrive, and I expected to get an electric curling set. About a week before my birthday, I announced to my parents that the curlers HAD to be electric steam curlers or I did not want them. AT ALL. My thoughtless self did not stop to think that perhaps my parents had already bought the gift, which they had. And, they were not steam curlers. My birthday arrived, and I saw my gift. In that moment, I realized how much pain I had given my parents. They wanted to bless me, and I had destroyed that blessing by insisting that I wanted what I wanted and nothing else would do. I tried to make up for my inconsiderate ways by thanking them over and over for the non-steam rollers, but I had already ruined it for them -- their downcast eyes showed me that they knew their best was not good enough for me. In the days prior to my birthday, I had clearly and loudly stated all the flaws in any other type of roller.

Maybe we need words like faith, love, and peace to surround "expectantly waiting." There is a type of waiting that blesses and a type that does not. Maybe it depends on the 5 Ws and 1 H: Who, when, where, what, why, and how.

How are we waiting? Many years after my childish incident, I was called upon to wait, and not just wait, but to wait confidently. I had been maliciously slandered and God clearly told me how to wait when, at the precise moment I needed it, my daily Bible reading was in Isaiah 30. Verses 15-16 tell how the Israelites could have chosen to wait on God, but they did not do so --

"In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength." 
But you would not, And you said, 'No, for we will flee on horses' -- 
Therefore, you shall flee! And, 'We will ride on swift horses' -- 
Therefore those who pursue you shall be swift!

On the other hand, verse 18 tells how God waits for us:

"Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you; 
And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. 
For the LORD is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for Him." 

God told me to "Wait confidently." And, of course, I said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." Sigh. No. I said, "Wait confidently, Lord?! It's hard enough to wait, let alone confidently!...." Then, "Nonetheless, not my will be done, but yours"...well, sort of... I said, "Okay." Several months later, I received apologies and commendations. What I gained most of all was an enlarged view of the God I serve and what He can do through me if I let Him. Just this morning I read this in 2 Peter 3:9 -- "The Lord is not slow about his promise as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance."

In Advent, I'm preparing, but I am preparing for a remembrance and a celebration. Immanuel, God with us, Jesus, is here. I enter into His life each day as I journey through life's trials and tribulations with patience, just as Joseph and Mary did, knowing that in the kingdom of God we are safe. If a door closes behind us, He will show us the next step to take.

As I invite the Holy Spirit in and trust in Him, the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control grows. At the same time, I can choose to seek God in His word and to enjoy Him in His creation. Like Mary and Joseph, I can worship Him, and in "rest and quiet confidence" I can get my strength from Him.

Like Laubach, I can practice living in His presence: "The moment I turn to Him it is like turning on an electric current which I feel through my whole being" (3 June 1930).

Then, truly the celebration of the birth of my Savior will be a joyous one!