We each have a life story, penned without ink, read by the people around us. Who's writing your story?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Week Between . . .

"Mom, you don't have to go through all this trouble," one of my daughters remarked as I set the table using my good dishes and goblets. 

I flashed her a smile as I placed the silverware and napkins just so. "I eat by myself every night. Do you know what it means to me to have you all here? To be able to set a proper table? To enjoy the hubbub? 

This week, I've been savoring the memories of them all being here . . . the rompings of two little boys, the hush as we sat together at the Christmas Eve service, the birthday cake for Jesus, the traditional reading of the Christmas story, the adult gift exchange, the excitement of the children, the singing of carols as the fireplace blazed, the never-ending chit chat . . . 

The week between Christmas and New Year's also offers a unique opportunity to look back and remember events of the past year. Many changes have taken place in our family in 2016. The first year anniversary of Barry's passing, Elisabeth's graduation from high school and enrollment in college, the release of Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story, the quietness of living alone for the first time . . .

The week between Christmas and the new year naturally turns our attention to the future. What will 2017 bring? Only God knows. One of my most precious memories of last weekend was when we went around the table and each one shared their hopes and plans for the new year: an online class, a road trip to the mid-west, a possible summer internship, a new place to live, a quilt to complete, a desire to maintain the status quo, an effective marketing plan, a determination to down-size . . . all areas we can be praying for each other about . . .

A wise king once wrote, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. . . . Many are the plans in a  man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails" (Proverbs 16:9; 19:21). There's a bit of comfort in these words. 

In this week between Christmas and New Year's, take the opportunity to meditate on God's goodness in our past and the promise of His presence in our future. 

Immanuel . . . God with us!


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Ultimate Transaction

Sleigh bells jingled in the background, and lights twinkled as I waited at the end of a long line of strangers to exchange my cash for my daughter’s Christmas gift. In a limited sense, I became poorer so she could become richer. When we give a gift, we sacrifice money—and ultimately time. Yet my transaction didn’t make me truly “poor” or make her truly “rich.”

But what if our family left our suburban home with only the clothes on our backs? What if we left our cars in the garage, our furniture, our technology, our clothes, our freezer full of food, our education, our jobs, our children’s school, and all that we have and do. And what if a refugee family from a third-world country moved in and suddenly acquired all we left behind . . . while we took up their life of hand-to-mouth poverty? We, who had been rich, for their sakes would become poor that they might gain our riches.

What if a billionaire traded places with the poorest of peasants? 

What if the Son of God became poor for earthlings like us?

Jesus willingly embraced the ultimate poverty. He left His Father and all that encompasses the celestial sphere to become a helpless infant. He took on human limitations. The hands that formed the heavens with the moon and the stars, wrapped themselves around a teenage girl’s finger as she lovingly swaddled Him in homespun strips of cloth. He became utterly dependent on the people He created—for milk, for shelter, for protection. Although He was the Word from the beginning, He had to learn to talk. Taking on humanity demonstrated no small sacrifice. He traded all of heaven’s glory for our sakes so that we could acquire all He left behind.

We celebrate Christmas because a Savior came to provide eternal life. We sing carols about joy, celebrate with candlelight services, and re-enact the Nativity. We rejoice in the benefits of His grace.

But Jesus experienced unfathomable loss. Loss for a sinful people who often take the incarnation for granted. And if becoming a baby wasn’t humbling enough, He gave up His life as the ultimate sacrifice. For our sakes—all because He loves us.

This Christmas, l hope we will remember God’s unspeakable gift. It’s through His poverty we become truly rich.

Joy to the world!

 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9, NKJV).
Photos from bing.com

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Back to Bethlehem

Just like a preprogrammed clock, the question came every day.
"Is it Christmas yet?"
Written by Lillian Ewert, my wonderful mom, who did Christmas so well.

Our granddaughter, Elisabeth, age 3, anticipated something she could not remember experiencing. The Christmas tree, the pretty lights, and the wooden manger scene caused her excitement to mount with each passing day. 

Christmas finally dawned. The family gathering at our house always included a Christmas play presented by all the grandchildren, which I enjoyed directing. The adults provided the appreciative audience. However, changes had occurred over the years. Some of the grandchildren could not be there, and the adult audience had dwindled considerably. Elisabeth's teenage sisters no longer looked forward to wearing bathrobes and angel wings.

I wrestled with the idea of giving up the Christmas play but struggled to find a substitute to help us focus on the Savior's birth. As I watched Elisabeth at play, an idea began to stir in my thoughts.

"Elisabeth, would you like to be Mary and put Baby Jesus in the manger?" I asked.

Elisabeth's eyes lit up as she took my hand and we went into the bedroom to get ready. "Grammy, you be Joseph," she said.

I pinned a blanket around Elisabeth's shoulders and tied a scarf around her head. I placed the baby Jesus, wrapped in strips of cloth, into her arms, and together we stepped into the living room and slowly walked to the manger. Carefully she placed Baby Jesus in the bed of artificial straw. Mary and Joseph knelt beside the manger to admire the baby.

The family began to sing familiar Christmas carols previously taught by Elisabeth's mother. Sometimes the baby was picked up and gently rocked and placed back in the manger.

Elisabeth's eyes shone as she lived out the story that had become so familiar to her in recent days. It became obvious that she loved her role as Mary when she kept her costume on the rest of the day. 

As the day drew to a close, the adults remained at the table after dinner to talk while Elisabeth, who had been excused, played with her toys in the living room. Before long, I felt a tap on my shoulder and a little voice said, "Joseph, will you come back to Bethlehem with me?"

Back to Bethlehem. "A little child shall lead them" (Isaiah 11:6). 
So how do we come back to Bethlehem?

We find our way back to Kohl's, back to the grocery story, back to Amazon, and even back to church. But what about Bethlehem? How would you say we can be intentional about finding Bethlehem in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the season?

O come, all ye faithful, joyful, and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and adore Him, born the King of angels.
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.   

Thursday, December 8, 2016

It's Good to Go and Good to Come Home

Three college girls, Elisabeth among them, drove all night to spend a few days with their families back east. Since the driver lived near my two older daughters, Dad and I drove down to spend Thanksgiving there. I couldn't wait to see them all. When Elisabeth arrived I ran down the front steps to give her a big hug, tears in my eyes. I hadn't seen her since August 23rd when I left her standing by her dorm eleven hours away.

We all had a wonderful few days . . . catching up, laughing, sharing ideas and recipes, eating, and playing with two little grandboys, ages five and thirteen months. I savored the days. Yet I knew our stay would be temporary. And as our time drew to a close, I found my mind wandering back to the place I've called home for nearly thirty years. 

What is it that draws us back? We can almost feel the pull of home after an all-day shopping trip, a white-knuckle drive on slippery roads, or even a much-needed week at the beach. Perhaps it's the familiar, the predictable routines, and the memories that nurture our souls. Or maybe it's the sigh of relief that comes when we climb our own creaky stairs, snuggle into our own bed, and listen for the chime of the old clock on the mantel, the click of the furnace, the hum of the refrigerator.
My mother used to say, "It's good to go. And it's good to come home." 

Would you agree?

On our way back, as rolling hills gradually rose into rugged terrain, I began to reflect. In this life, we savor the days. Each one is a precious gift. We spend time together, exchange ideas, serve, and pray. We play and work, eat and sleep. Yet we're "strangers and pilgrims" in this world. Here for a little while. And "any day now," as the old song goes, "we"ll be going home."

Can you almost feel the pull? Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you . . . that where I am, there you may be also." 

In Barry's words, "That's home" (Penned, page 41).

Photos by Julie Manwarren