Thank you for stopping by my blog.

I write day after day because I discover extraordinary lessons from ordinary life experiences. I record my visual portraits of everyday life filled with something sacred in hopes that my reflections might bring an insight that blesses my readers.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My tribute to my friend and nieghbor,Linda Calvert

My Christmas celebrations came to a halt yesterday.  My neighbor past away in her sleep.  Linda will have the ultimate Christmas .  She will be singing with the angels and praising God in the highest.  She will understand fully how the life of Christ was the light of her.  I can't imagine what joy she must feel basking in His glory  and His encompassing light .  I can only know she is walking on the streets of gold with Christ because she lived her live for Him and the family that He gave her.

Linda and Larry Calvert have been our neighbors for over thirty-five years.  I have a large front window .  Through this window, I have watched the Calverts' children play and grow.  We have gone through many snows together and helped dig each other out.  We have planted every spring and talked about these plantings and our expectations.  We have pruned every fall and discussed how this would help our plants next year.  As I have looked out my window through these years, I have watched Linda and Larry as a team.  I have watched them pack their van for a trips to Branson, the Smokey Mountains, and the Rockies.  I have watched them return and heard their enjoyable reports of their trips together.  In fact, through the years, the Calverts have made my daily journal entries many times.  They are the kind of neighbors that you dream of having. They are always there if we needed help, water, or other emergencies.

Linda and I loved sitting on the porch and looking over the neighborhood and talking of how things have changed or not changed. I must admit that I would have to coax her to stop and sit.  She was always busy with household projects or trips to town.  We considered it a blessing that several of the residence on our street had been neighbors since the early seventies.  We discussed Angie's upcoming marriage, her first baby, and her job.  We talked of Nate's diabetes and then his new fiance, wedding plans, job, and life in Indy.

We considered how blessed we were to have husbands that took such good care of us and were faithful to God and His teachings.  We laughed about grandchildren antics and aspirations.  We never tired of talking about her flowers and mine.  We reported our first hummingbird citing as well as how much we fed the local bird population.  We talked often of God's constant care and blessings.  We asked each other for prayer and knew that we would seek our Father's best for each other.

I showed Linda my first painting, and as usual, she was so complimentary.  She was always interested in my current projects or our trips, our son's activities, and  our new home improvements.  She was a pure, pure spirit.  I loved the gentle light that glowed within her.  She was calming to be around.  When she shared about Angie and Nate, it wasn't bragging but praise for how good God was to them.  She was never boisterous just kind and loving.  She demonstrated the love of Christ in her inquiries and her explanations of life's happenings.

Before Linda's heart surgery last spring, she shared that she was dreading it.  We talked of how doctor's were well trained now and how God would be holding her hand.  She recovered so quickly.  She was home and talking to us the very week of her surgery.  She said it was painful but manageable.  That was so Linda.  She liked focusing on the best, the light, the strength, and the joy in her life.  That is what I loved about Linda.  She wasn't critical but concerned.  She wasn't negative but positive.  She wasn't focused on worldly fashion, possessions, or money.  Instead, she shared her love for her family, her granddaughters, nature, and  God's beauty.  She was the right person to hang around if  I was feeling sad or discontent.  Her conversations gave me a lift, a smile, and a portion of her gentle light.

I will miss that light outside my window.  I will miss her sweet, childlike smile.  I will try to learn from her and not focus on grieving but instead on her wonderful life eternal.  God planted a beautiful woman in my life.  I know we shall meet again one day.  Until then, I will remember all her dedication to her  "workouts" at the YMCA, her love of retirement because she could at last sleep late,  her  fastidious attention to her church family,and her diligence in being Larry's handmaiden.

Yes, sweet friend, you will be missed.

When her bulbs bloom this spring, they will beckon a hello to me from Linda smiling down from heaven's gates.                  

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Simple Understanding

Last night I was playing with my 22 month old granddaughter,Ellis. We were playing with a wooden manger scene and replacing the figures in the manger. She would name the characters and then sometimes knock them over , so she could set them up again. Although this was a simple and familiar activity, I realized that this was as close as some of us get to the real meaning of Christmas. Just like baby Ellis, we look briefly at the Christ child and then lay Him down.

I have purposed in my heart that this Christmas will be different. I am trying to spend more time with the Christ child and less time being "busy". Why just this day that Ellis and I played with the manger figures, I had been so busy preparing gumbo, cleaning, and setting up play stations for the girls that I had not spent any time with Christ. Sure, I would send up small spontaneous prayers, but I hadn't taken time to thank Him for my wonderful family who would be gathering at our home this weekend. I had not meditated on Christ's gift to me this day. I was much like the inn keeper. I had no room today.

Playing with the manger characters, I realized how simple I was making the story , so a two year old could understand it. Ellie understands Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. She gets them in the right order. She mixes up the wise men and the shepherds. Suddenly, I realized she really did understand the order. The wise men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were their best gifts. The shepherds were not kings, but they received the news first of the Savior from angels. Each were equal in the eyes of the Lord. Country shepherds and kings were of equal importance to God. So, let the figures line up anyway they want as long as they are worshiping the Christ child.

Falling on my knees and singing hallelujah is the best gift I can offer Him. A child has once again simplified the message. Of all our gifts nothing is better than our honest worship. Yes, baby Ellie, we are are all equal at the manger scene.

Our gift of praise is as great as the wise men who brought expensive

treasures. Let me continue to ponder the figures in my creche and allow God to teach me more of His glorious provisions and love.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Rehearsal

Christmas Rehearsal

Have you ever considered that Christmas is a life map? Christmas has all the temptations of life as well as the praise worthy components.

Think about that glittery package decked with a bright red ribbon so large it tumbles over the shiny foil wrapping. It looks like a treasure. Everyone o oohs and awes over the elegance of the wrapping. No one would suspect that inside is a worn pair of mittens. Isn’t that much like us? We bedeck ourselves with mask of makeup, svelte fitting undergarments to disguise our bulges, and expensive dresses to cover our flaws. We are a wrapped package to the eyes of the world. What is within? Have we weathered too many storms and our thoughts are always critical? Have we nurtured the bitter seed of divorce, rejection, despair , and it has grown massive and hardened our heart ? Does our velvet black cocktail dress hide our hurts?

Consider all the sweet temptations. We relish each plate of cookies or red velvet cake that passes our way. The fudge, the ribbon candy, and the caramels are just too much to resist. We eat and eat and submit to each temptation that comes our way. Is this perhaps a forerunner of our lack of discipline for the new year ?

The lack of budgets and savings create a charge card filled with gifts from every store in the area as well as Amazon and other well known on line sites. We buy and buy more. If we see a lovely silk scarf for our sister, we like it so much we buy ourselves one too. Yes, that gift of wine is nice for the hostess , but we add two to our pantry as well. It is a strange kind of generosity. If they will enjoy it, so will I. In the frenzy of black Friday, have you found the greatest bargains for yourself? Again, is Christmas shopping a test of our generosity versus our greed?

Families merge and traditions continue. There is so much fun for the children and warmth in family togetherness. However, how many times have we realized the Chevy Chase extended Christmas family is ours? We are struggling with Aunt Mary’s same stories of health concerns about her constipation. We can’t bare for our brother to boss and organize one more family function. We are at our husband’s throat because of all the stress of his family? Again, think about this as a dress rehearsal. Is God using this time to test our selflessness, our compassion, our loyalty to Him and His children?

As I have meditated on Christmas this year, the Lord keeps showing me each aspect of Christmas has been stolen by the enemy. What was intended to present Emmanuel with us has become a trial rather than a blessing. Apparently, movie makers have understood this for years and realized that tear makers are money makers.

We are reminded continually this is a holy season. We must enter each task, each challenge, each celebration with the mind of Christ. He has created an opportunity for our light to shine and our discipline to matter. He has come not only as a babe in the manger but as our Provider each Christmas season. I am accepting the challenge of seeing Christmas as a test of my true self. Do I really have a heart for the poor? Am I rejoicing in all things? Am I showing compassion and love to my family? Am I able to set aside my selfish desires and find joy in giving and serving willingly? Am I really my neighbor's keeper? I cannot answer yes to many of these questions. However, looking at Christmas in this way has given me new understanding and trust in how much our heavenly Father has used Christmas to shape and mold me. I hear the phone ringing, perhaps it is another opportunity to rehearse for Christmas.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Manger is Empty but the Light is Still On

I have been reading The Manger Is Empty by Walter Wangerin.  His allegorical tales of the beauty and mystery of Christ’s birth have penetrated my heart.  As you who read me often,  understand that I love to meditate on the scriptures. I  try to put myself in Bethlehem the night of our dear Savior’s birth.  I enjoy visualizing Mary and Joseph and their reactions to Gabriel’s news to them.  I cannot know the details, but I understand the spirit of the words of the gospel depictions of that sacred night in the inn.  I realize that there was darkness all about the land. 

Man’s sinful nature had darkened the land and man’s heart.  We , mankind, needed a light.  Not a small candle, not a flaming chandelier, but we needed a light so bright , so immersing that it would reflect in our soul forever.  That was when God incarnate came to this earth as a tiny babe.  God chose a baby to communicate His message of love.

I know why.  Who is not allured by the cooing of a new born?  Who of you has seen the birth of a child?  It is at the very moment that babe takes his first breath that you ,the bystander, recognize a miracle. 

In 1970 , I helped start a school for teenage mothers at the YWCA.  I was called to be a part of this because when I taught at Central in 1969, pregnant girls were not allowed to attend public school.  Who needed an education more than a fifteen year old young lady with child?  I asked to help.  My superior was a fifty year old spinster with definite feelings about young girls out of wedlock.  I am not sure whether God put me there for me to nourish my  boss or nurture the young moms and babes.  I suspect I needed a little molding and purifying too.  My boss and I sharpened each other like steel against steel.  However, neither of us lost sight of our goal, which was to help the pregnant girl adjust to  motherhood and complete her education.  Retrospectively, I see how amazing that was.  We were both hard headed but big hearted.  We both wanted to make a difference in their lives.  I was called and she was assigned this new duty.  Together, with God’s grace, we built a mini school that facilitated education and parenting.

I would hear the phone at 2 a.m. and a soft voice would say, “ What are you doing Mrs. B?” 
I replied, “Just sleeping.  Do you need something?” 
“Yes, I am in labor, can you come to the hospital with me?”
“ Sure , I will be there shortly.”

It was the grandest opportunity of my teaching career.  I was chosen to be her encourager, or her birth coach, or her advocate.  Few father’s arrived to witness the birth of their babies.  Most of the fathers were long gone after the announcement of the pregnancy. Because of the moral embarrassment, many daughters and moms had become alienated.  I was just a neutral person who counted it all joy to witness the birth of a babe.  I heard the cry of the mother and tried to keep her focused.  When I heard the cry of the babe, I knew God was present. His light was there.  He breathed life into this little babe and made him whole.  I felt like the shepherds who witnessed the sky splitting open and allowing blinding light to guide them to the new babe.  Regardless of the circumstances, each birth I witnessed clarified my understanding of  a God so big, so miraculous, so creative that  I could not wrap my mind around His abilities, His gifts, His wisdom, or His ways. 

It has been many years since I was called to be a part of the birth process.  I did have one friend that asked me to come with her and her husband to be by their side at their first born son.  It still awed me how great our God is.

So, star of wonder , star of bright lead me to His holy sight.  I am praying that melody as I look upon the light given to our world.  Mary too was a young teen in a culture that did not accept births out of wedlock.  Both Mary and my former students were misunderstood.  Mary brought us Jesus supernaturally.  Jesus brought light into our dark world, our dark hearts.  The birth of a babe is a supernatural way to teach us of unconditional love.  Mary taught that.  My teenagers taught me that.  Most importantly, Jesus taught that for all the world to see, not just the wise men, not just Joseph and Mary, but all of us who cherishes the manger story each Advent season. 

Please share this story with your children, your grandchildren , and your neighbors and help them know the light that illuminated the earth two thousand years ago as well as today. During this busy season, take time to tell this old, old story and join in this Christmas season by bringing light to others.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Stop Stuffing Christmas

Stuffing Christmas into a Jar

I hear busyness. I see bustling. I recognize that so many folks are in a hurry up mode. They are busy trying to push all the Christmas celebrations into a jar. Push, push, push; get that list for today completed and go to the next list. Somehow, I just don’t think the Advent season is meant to be so “pushy”. How can we slow it down and make it meaningful?

First, does everyone need several gifts? Wouldn’t one needed or wanted gift be more significant? Most children get gifts from grandparents, siblings, and aunts and uncles, so that number climbs naturally. When we decided to limit our gifts to one nice one, or two medium priced items like a book or a favorite CD, my stress decreased immensely. I remember sitting down with hubby and saying, “We just don’t need to buy so many gifts. Our extended family of cousins gets so much." More is not Christmas. More turns into selfishness. That  year was one of the nicest holidays ever. We talked to cousins and sisters and asked them to take us off their gift list. They seemed surprised but relieved. Why? It simplified their Christmas too. We did this about fifteen years ago, and we have never missed those extra gifts. We gained family time, more game playing , and time to drink tea and listen to the powerful words of carols. Most important, we had more money to share with our "adopted" Christmas family.

Second, I incorporated cookie exchanges in my life. This was just an easy fix. I made one kind of cookie and shared. The other ladies did the same. We had a delightful assortment and wonderful fellowship. I still enjoy giving cookies to the neighbors and am not opposed to mixing a few store bought wedding cookies and chocolates to make my plates a little more decorative. Instead of spending hours decorating cut out sugar cookies, I turned it into a family contest. I make the cookies ahead and put them in the freezer. Then, when all the family arrives , we have the master decorator hour. In a little over an hour, those cookies are iced and decorated and a “best decorated cookie” award and a “most creative” award is announced. We have neighbors that help in the judging. Of course, younger participants are given extra points.

Third, I take time early in the morning to read a Christmas story, poem, or reflect on a few Bible verses. I actually read those Christmas gift books. I try to imagine how I would have felt on Christmas morn in war times. I imagine how uncomfortable Mary must have been riding a donkey on a cold night. I ponder how and why the wise men pursued the Christ child. This beginning thought of the day infiltrates my thinking all day. I like that. I am realizing what Christmas is, what happened two thousand years ago, and contemplating what my granddaughters' Christmas will look like in fifteen years. These thoughts create plenty of prayer material.

Just those three adjustments have made the season peaceful. I still have time to visit shut ins, make special cards for loved ones, bake our sons' favorite cookie recipe,or take time for yoga and walking. Slowing down the pace of Christmas actually gives me more time. I sing these words, " Son of God, Love's pure light. Radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth, Jesus, Lord at thy birth." If I take time to seek the King, I too discover the radiant grace.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Creative Memories

Creative Memories 

 During this festive time of year, I become  nostalgic.  I sit and stare at our Christmas tree , and I have flashbacks of  earlier trees.  I have always recreated the tree every year.  When we were first married, I made an elegant gold tree.  When the boys were small, I  trimmed  the tree with safe red and white peppermint ornaments and candy canes with cute red bows.  Then, I began my angel collection and covered the tree with angels....just angels.  The boys loved buying me a new angel for Christmas because I would unwrap it and add it to the tree immediately.  We would declare  it to be the fairest of all angels.

 I remember the tree that caused all the guys in my family as well as my neighbor Tom to gasp.  What had I done?  I covered the tree with peacock feathers and turquoise and green balls.  They just could not  comprehend a peacock tree and still to this day tease me about my creation.

 Of course, no two mantels have ever been the same.  Each year the theme of the Christ child is the same , but I address it differently on the mantel.  Again, my three guys could not understand why I went to such pains and hours to create a new mantel each year.  The fun is in the creating for me.  Creating new slants on the same theme makes my season more meaningful.   
The holy season of Christmas has always been about giving in our home.  We have helped over forty  families have a joyful holiday.  The circumstances have been different, but God has led me to them.  I have had to solicit help from friends and neighbors at times because my “joyful” included new floors, furniture, games, toys, bed linens, new outfits for all nine kids, and trees and lights.  We have piled houses full of pantry items and gifts that children put on Santa’s list.  Just like the tree, every year has looked different.  My guys have done little of the shopping but loved being a part of the cookie baking and delivering of the yuletide greetings.  We have shed tears together reminiscing the look on the grandparents’ faces when we explained we had paid ahead for drug refills.  We all cried when the couple called us  on Christmas morn and said they had received so much that they took some of their gifts and gave to the couple who lived under the bridge. 

 I loved including our Young Life groups.  They wrapped and gathered with such fun and frolic.  They wanted to be in on “giving”.  They too would cry after we delivered toys and food to a family that had hard luck and couldn’t have Christmas that year.  I get reports back from those kids who are now forty some.  They report adopting families  of their own because the joy is in the giving.   

Christmas is dancing lights, colorful packages, smiling gingerbread men, and a heart filled with the joy of helping mankind.  The blessing to us has been much greater than any of the blessings we have bestowed.  Our family has wonderful memories of the five little kids that just grabbed a gingerbread man and stared at us as we told the advent story.  They were stuck to those cookies and wondered why all these gifts filled their small living area. 

 We remember fondly of the “overstock” Christmas.   We had so many gifts that we filled our son’s jeep as well as our van.  We delivered them to the family and did our singing and gospel story.  Then, when we left after tears and hugs, we discovered we had a whole seat of food and linens still left.  I told our son ,"Let’s just go driving down Madison and see what God has for us. "  Conservative John has always been aghast at some of his mother’s meanderings and expectations.  He drove  and I prayed and asked God to reveal  to whom these items belonged .   It was cold and windy.  John had on his Annapolis masked  cadet face that showed little emotion.  

Suddenly, I heard God.  “John, stop right here.”  His response, “ Oh, mom.”  At the bus stop was a very large lady with a very thin coat.  I approached her and told her God had sent us with some Christmas surprises.    She began to cry and thank God .  “Lordy, Lordy, Lordy!  You have heard my prayer.  Thank you , Jesus.”  She showed us where she lived , and John and I delivered two baskets of food and a basket of new sheets, blankets, and pillows.  We even had extra money to put in her hand. It was a double blessed Christmas.  I saw water standing in those icey blue eyes of our son.  It was difficult not to react to such thankfulness.

 All these families have taught me that I too should be just as demonstrative in thanking God for His many provisions.  I too cry out, “ Lordy, Lordy, Lordy, thank you , Jesus.”  I am tearful when I think of my abundance of blessings of a faithful and dear husband, sons who are loyal to God and have integrity.  I am humbled to have been given such a wonderful daughter-in-law , who helps me prepare meals and willingly sees that I get to play with the granddaughters to my heart is content.  I am blessed with good health as they are also.  We have enough to share with others.  I cry out to God,  “ Thank you for a season that brings out this giving nature in so many.  "It is because we give , we can live abundantly.