Monday, December 27, 2010

Unexpected Christmas

"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." John 14:18

"Do we not continually pass by blessings innumerable without notice, and instead fix our eyes on what we feel to be our trials and our losses, and think and talk about these until our whole horizon is filled with them, and we almost begin to think we have no blessings at all?" Hannah Whitall Smith

How was your Christmas? I hope you received all that you had hoped for. I hope you were surrounded by love and family and that you ended your day of celebrating Jesus' birth with full tummies and hearts. I can almost be certain that some of you who are reading this did not have the Christmas you had been dreaming about. I know mine did not go exactly as I had planned--in fact it went pretty much exactly the opposite of the way I had it planned and there were moments when I thought it was completely ruined. I wanted to cry or scream or both. It's my own fault. I paint the pictures in my head with too vivid of colors. I forget that when real people are involved the colors will mix together and overlap and the picture will at times be muted and at times be blurred and at other times look like a Jackson Pollock original.

My husband and I woke up really early to drive the hour to pick up my Mother and then drive the two hours to my youngest son's home. His house was already filled with so many that I love--both my sons, their wives, my granddaughter and new grandson. My daughter was on her way. As the house filled with the smells of the Christmas feast we were about to have and the area around the tree exploded with gifts to be opened I looked around with such contentment. Maybe the picture wasn't exactly what I had imagined, but it was pretty close. We ate our meal. Gift opening would come next and I could imagine the happy faces as each opened presents that had been picked out intentionally and with love for each one. Then I heard a fearful voice coming from the restroom. My mother was screaming for me to come help her. I entered to find blood everywhere and my 82 year old mother shaking violently. Isn't it strange that when we are confronted by things like this so often the Lord just seems to slow our hearts down and helps us to remain calm? Well, He does that for me anyway. I'm always calm when calamity strikes and then when it's over, I usually fall apart. When I say there was blood everywhere, I mean there was a LOT of blood. She had told us earlier that when she woke up that morning there was a lot of blood on her pillow and that her nurse's aide where she lives said it was a nose bleed. Her nose was bleeding again, but not like any nose bleed I had ever seen. My daughter came into the restroom and panicked. My son who's house it was immediately thought she would die right there in his home on Christmas morning. My husband, the voice of reason, said it's a bad nose bleed, let's apply pressure and stop the bleeding and she'll be o.k. I could see that the kids were too afraid so I said I thought we better take her to the hospital. We did. We spent hours in the emergency room on Christmas Day in New York City.

By the time we reached the hospital the bleeding had indeed stopped as the voice of reason had said but because she had so much blood on her and because she is elderly, they put her in a wheelchair and wheeled her right in. She was seen very quickly and the doctor confirmed it was just a bloody nose probably caused by her heater drying out the air in her apartment this time of year. He decided he would check out her blood to see if it was too thin or if she had lost too much so the two kids who had accompanied us went back to the festivities and my husband and I waited. As my daughter left she took a picture of her grandmother and put it on Facebook with the caption "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer!".

I am ashamed to say that at that moment my thoughts were not God's thoughts. I felt resentment that I was in the emergency room of a New York City hospital on Christmas instead of celebrating with my family. I wanted the doctors and the lab technicians to hurry--I felt robbed of precious moments and invaluable time. I almost felt panicked that I was loosing seconds that I would never be able to get back and I needed each one of those seconds--I really, really needed them! This was one holiday that my empty nest was going to be full again, when my quiet life would be filled with noise and laughter again and I was missing it all to care for the mother who was seldom there when I was a child to care for me.

I've cared for my mother since my father died--21 years ago. At first, it was just taking care of paying her bills because my father always did that. Through the years she needed more and more care until finally she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and she had to move in with us. My whole life the role of mother and child had been reversed. She never seemed to grow up and I had to grow up too quickly. We were never close, never bonded, never got along for any length of time. Despite that, rarely a day has gone by that I have not called her to make sure she was all right. I made sure that my children were around her as much as possible--they have always adored her. I accepted the responsibility of taking care of her because I knew it was expected of me. Somewhere along the journey of taking care of this woman who really only invoked anger in me because of her neglect, I began to see her through the Lord's eyes. I began to enjoy hearing the stories of the past that Alzheimer's had made so vivid to her. I began to excuse the things that in the past I had found inexcusable in her. She started telling strangers that I was her best friend and I thought, o.k., I can handle being her friend and caring for her as unto the Lord. The amazing thing was that in learning to care for her the Lord began healing me of the hurts and bitterness of the past.

But now we were in the emergency room and the images of being a child and having my own nose bleeds and only my father to comfort me and take care of me. The resentment stirred up because I could not be with my own children that I had tried to nurture in all of the ways that she had failed to nurture me. Why God? Just as the tears started to run over the brim of my eyes He literally opened my eyes. Here I was in a hospital on Christmas day surrounded by nurses, doctors, technicians, janitors and aides who were not home with their loved ones. They had been cheerful to us from the moment we got there. They had served my mother without a thought of their own losses. She was a stranger that needed their help and they were giving their best gift of care to her. I took another look at my mother laying on the hospital bed and asked the Lord to please forgive me and change my heart; to please help me to minister to her with love and patience and to show the people at this hospital His love through me. I knew at that point that He would give us the time we needed to all be together; that He would work it all for our good and that was enough--more then enough to bring me peace.

Shortly after that prayer the doctor returned to tell us all was well with her blood and shortly after that she was dismissed. As we left the hospital we were able to wish all of the workers a Merry Christmas with real joy in our hearts. By the time we eventually got my mother back to her home my heart was thankful for each moment we all shared, each kiss, each hug, each joy-filled laugh. I could not tell you what each person received for a Christmas gift--I don't even care--this Christmas will always be precious to me because God shook my perfect Christmas up like a snow globe. He shook up the control I was unknowingly trying to exert to make Christmas fit into my box, he shook up feelings I thought I had long ago conquered but were still under the surface making me sick and sad. He let the snow come (figuratively and literally) and settle on my life and the scene that was left after all the shaking up was so much prettier then the scene He could see in me before.

If your Christmas wasn't exactly what you had hoped for. If relationships were difficult or hurtful. If all you feel is empty or angry or resentful when you know that you should feel peaceful and loving and thankful please remember that God knows what you are feeling and He cares. Sometimes He even has to show us what we are feeling and He'll do that for you because He loves you and He really, really wants to heal you. As He reminds us in John 14:18, even if our earthly parents are not here for us for whatever reason, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Miracles Happen!

As I was praying about what I would write in this blog today, I kept feeling like I needed to write about miracles. After all, it is the season to celebrate miracles--the miracle of our Savior's birth being the entire reason for the season. But as I began typing about the past God kept bringing me back to now. Do you ever miss seeing His miracles in your life because you are so caught up in just living your life? I know I have been guilty of that so often.

Gloria Gaither said, "I could go through this day oblivious to the miracles all around me or I could tune in and "enjoy"." So I decided to tune in. I decided to quit thinking about the grand celebration we will be having in three days to celebrate the miraculous birth of Jesus, to quit thinking about being surrounded by my miraculous children and grand children and look around on this day. You know what I see? Wouldn't it be charming if I could just automatically name off several miracles right now? But I can't. What I see is a bedroom filled with wrapping paper that needs to be put away for another year, a carpet that needs vacuuming, meals that need to be cooked, relationships that need to be tended to. I see people in my life who need jobs, homes and hope. I see people in my life that don't know my Savior after so many years of my prayers. I see a country that appears to be falling apart.

So in the midst of  all of these things, how do I get to a place where I can see all of the miraculous things that God is doing? I think the answer is the simplest little thing. Most of us learned it in kindergarten--stop, look and listen! Stop seeing things through our day to day occurrences, look through the eyes of Jesus at both people and events, and listen to His interpretation of miracles!

If I stop and take a second look at the carpet and the bedroom I can be so thankful for a nice warm home and I can ask God to give the homeless the miracle of a warm dwelling place this year. When I stress about the meals, I can take a second look in my pantry and refrigerator and I can be thankful for all of the amazing food He has supplied us with and I can prayerfully ask Him to miraculously supply the hungry children and adults in this world with the nourishment they need. In fact, I can pray for miracles for all of the things I complain about regularly. Luke 1:37 says, "For nothing will be impossible with God."  I believe it.

Then the Lord brought to mind another scripture--John 14:12

"I assure you" The one who believes in Me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father."

Oh no, I believe that too! I had to listen. Maybe if you and I are to see and celebrate some miracles today, we need to be involved in the work of the miracle. I'm not saying that God won't answer our prayers when we ask Him for the miracles. I'm saying maybe He has said He will use us to help bring about some of those miracles. If we ask God for a miracle for someone we love, how blessed we would be if He in turn asked us to help in the work of giving them that miracle. If I'm looking for the miracle of homes for the homeless, wouldn't it be just like our Lord to show me a ministry that could use my help in building homes for the homeless; food for the hungry; salvation for the loss. Maybe we don't see the miracles because we are not stopping our everyday routines, looking through Jesus' eyes, and listening to His word as He encourages us to join Him in His work on earth.

"Here lies the tremendous mystery--that God should be all-powerful, yet refuse to coerce. He summons us to cooperation. We are honored in being given the opportunity to participate in His good deeds. Remember how He asked for help in performing His miracles: Fill the water pots, stretch out your hand, distribute the loaves." Eizabeth Elliot

I want to wish you all the very Merriest of Christmases--the best celebration of the miraculous birth of our Savior--and I want to ask the Lord to help each of us in the new year, this new decade, to open our eyes and our hearts to see His miracles around us and to open our ears to hear His calling to join Him in accomplishing them. As He does, please feel free to post comments about the every day miracles He allows you to see and even participate in this year. If there are ministries that you participate in now that you would like to comment about, please tell us all about them. Maybe God will use you to help others to stop, look and listen! God bless you all!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I think I just ordered the last Christmas present today. It's the perfect gift for my perfect husband and when I pressed the "enter" key to send all of the information necessary to purchase the gift and get it on it's way to arrive here before Christmas morning, I had the most wonderful sense of happiness. I could picture him opening it at our son's house. I could picture the look on his face because he would never imagine that I had purchased it for him. I could picture his joy and that brought me joy.

I think I get a little consumed with gifts at Christmas time. I make my lists, I think about what gift would please each name. Sometimes I panic because I can't think of a gift that will please or I don't have enough money to purchase the perfect one. I'm not saying that giving gifts is a bad thing. I believe we are called to be generous and called to be loving. I'm excited about giving my husband, children and grand children their presents this year. I can hardly wait!

As I finished buying that last gift, I joyfully thanked the Lord and He brought to my mind this scripture:

"We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully." Romans 12:6-8 

I've been so busy obsessing about Christmas presents, but have I been diligent in giving to others the gift that God has given me? In His word God says He gave us all these gifts and He says we are to use them. Not just at Christmas, but throughout our lives. I can imagine when God created us that He took great joy in choosing just the right gift to give us. In a similar way that many thoughts went through my mind as I chose my husband's perfect Christmas gift, God thought of who you were, what your personality was, where you would live and work and play, the people that would surround you, the people you would love, the people who would hurt you. He knew the way you would think and the experiences you would endure in your lifetime and He said "this is the perfect gift for her".  Do you know what your gift is? Are you using it with joy?

I feel quite certain that my husband will enjoy his gift and use it for the purpose that it was made. I would be very disappointed if he didn't. Similarly God wants you to enjoy your gift. More then that He wants you to use it. Even more then that, He will allow things and people in your life so that you will have the opportunities to use your gift. Is He disappointed when we don't? I'm sure He isn't, after all He knows us. His love for us is unconditional. The gifts He gives us are not for Him to measure whether we are good enough or lovable enough. He knows that when we give to others we will be blessed and so will they. It brings us joy and happiness, a sense of purpose. It allows others to see God's love in a human. It may even be used to bring others to salvation.

Corrie ten Boom said, "The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration but its donation." Maybe this Christmas while we wrap each present to place under our trees, we should ask ourselves, "what is the gift that God gave me and how am I using it--not just at Christmas but for all of my life?"

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the special gift you gave me when you created me. Thank you for being the only One that knows me completely. Thank you for placing me in my family, in this home, in this church, in this state, in this country. Thank you for each person that you bring into my life. Help me please to really see them, to see their need for my gift. Please give me the courage to step out in faith and share the gift and to do it with joy and love so that others will see You in me. I give you all of the glory and I give you all of the honor and praise.

In Jesus name,

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Baby Changes Everything

I've been going through the motions of preparing for Christmas. I put away the Thanksgiving decorations. I looked at the boxes my husband brought out of storage and sat in the middle of our living room floor and I wondered why am I doing this? Our family will all be going to our youngest son's home for our Christmas celebration. We are empty nesters. There are no children to be delighted by the finished tree when the lights are turned on, no one to tell the Christmas story to as we set up the Nativity scene. I had talked myself into putting up the bare minimum and calling it a Christmas.

Then, a text message from my daughter--"Amanda is having her baby, welcome to the world Penny!".  That message brought the picture in my head to a day so many years ago when my daughter stayed home from third grade sick. There was a knock on our door. I opened it and there stood a little Amanda with a piece of construction paper in her hand. She told me she was one of my daughter's friends from school and asked if she could see her. I showed her to my daughter's room and she gave her the paper which had two figures on it, one Amanda and one Ashley. At the top read "get well soon, I miss you".  Thus started a friendship that has lasted over two decades; endured sleep overs, growing pains, teenage angst, separations from our moves, boys, men, family problems, colleges and careers. Amanda has been in our daughter's life and in ours it seems forever. Today she becomes a Mommy--a Mommy to Penny--Penny from heaven! I am feeling so much excitement and joy over this news.

The feelings her news brought into my life made me start wondering during my quiet time. Shouldn't that same excitement, that same joy be in me as Christmas approaches? Shouldn't I really be feeling even more of these emotions? We celebrate Christmas to celebrate the birth of another baby. THE baby, Jesus my Savior, is the reason for the celebration. Yet until this morning, I had become guilty of making the season about my losses--children who had grown and moved away, family so far away, an empty feeling house, spending so much money on presents, the extra work, blah, blah, bah, bah humbug! Then, as the song says, "a baby changes everything". My thoughts of Amanda and Penny turned to thoughts of Mary and Jesus. Just as we had been looking forward to her birth for nine months, the world had waited for a Savior for generations. Just as this new Mommy had been preparing a place in her heart for her precious one, I needed to prepare a place in my heart all over again for a celebration of thanksgiving to God for His precious Son.

Yes, the decorations I will complete in our home are reminders of happy times when the house was full of noise and children, but it's not the reason for the decorations. The presents I'll wrap and place under the tree are for the one's I love but they are not the reason we buy them. The food we'll prepare and the "feast" we'll all share will be a meal of love but we do not prepare it every year at this time just to have a reason to eat together. Jesus, as the saying goes, is the reason for not just the season but for all that we do to make it a festive time. The birth of Amanda's daughter has revived my excitement about Christmas because it has reminded me of the joy and freedom that our Savior's birth brought into this world. The news of this new precious baby brought my attention away from me and caused me to focus once again on Him. Have you needed to re-focus on Jesus as you've scurried to get things accomplished this Christmas? If so, please join me in praying for little Penny and as you picture her bundled up in a safe, clean hospital in Texas, please shift your focus to the birth of Jesus--no hospital room, a dirty, smelly stable--a King come to earth as man. Just as we pray that Penny will grow through the years and serve a purpose in her life, Jesus grew up to serve the purpose that His Father in heaven sent Him here to accomplish. We pray Penny will live a full and happy life and have a million blessings; Jesus lived a life of servitude as an example to us of obedience to God, He died a death that He did not deserve so that we might have a forever life in Heaven that we cannot earn. His life brings us forgiveness of our sins if we only ask Him, only receive Him as our Savior. If you've never done that, never prayed for Jesus to forgive you your sins, for Jesus to become your Savior, please use this time as you look at the beautiful decorations, as you admire each twinkling light, as you shop for each of your loved ones; to reflect on why you do these things. If you pray for that forgiveness today you, like all of us who know Jesus as our Savior, will understand that a baby truly does change everything.

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6