The Candle in the Window (Part 5)

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Today is the final part of my holiday-themed story. For some reason, it seems like this December has gone especially fast and here we are already–ready to celebrate our Lord’s birth! I hope that you have enjoyed this story and that it will give you cause to think outside just you and your own family this Christmas and move your thoughts towards those who may not have a family or who may have lost a loved one this past year. Christmas can be especially hard for so many dear people. 

If you have missed this series, you can find Part 4 here. You will also find links to the other three parts on that post.

And, now, onto the fifth and final part of The Candle in the Window

     Helen lit the red candle and then went into the kitchen to heat up the leftover Christmas dinner that Marge had brought her last night. The memory of the night before warmed her heart. Christmas Eve spent with a friend was so much better than spending it alone. It even took a bit of the sting out of spending Christmas Day all by herself. She hummed Joy to the World as the microwave heated her meal.
     She decided to take the plate of the food into the living room. This was the last evening that she would burn the Christmas Candle and she wanted to fully enjoy it. Setting the plate on her recliner seat, she pulled an old TV tray table from it’s spot in the corner and set it up. She sat and rested for a minute or two before turning on the TV and digging into the turkey and stuffing before her.
     Thirty minutes later found her dozing, with an empty plate in front of her and an old Christmas movie playing on the TV.

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     Jessa licked her lips nervously. Perhaps this was a really crazy idea. Maybe her grandmother wouldn’t even want to see her. What was she thinking?
     “Ready?” Mark smiled at her.
     Lacey was full of nervous excitement, while Logan looked just a bit bored at the whole situation.
     “Okay, let’s do this,” Jessa determinedly started walking towards the front door of the little white Cape Cod. When the rest of the family had gathered there with her, she took a deep breath and then knocked.
     Since setting out the red candle at home a few weeks ago, Jessa had felt an increasing desire to find out if anyone from her father’s family was still alive. What she had discovered was that there was only one person left—her elderly grandmother. The family had decided they would drive the hour south to visit her after they had had Christmas dinner with her mother’s side of the family. Since they had been with Mark’s family on Christmas Eve, Christmas evening had seemed like the perfect time to make the momentous visit. But now here they were. At her house. On Christmas day. To Jessa it all felt quite surreal and a bit frightening.
     As the family stood on the front porch and waited, they looked around. The little house was in much disrepair. Besides being in dire need of a fresh coat of paint, the porch needed fixed and the shrubbery needed trimmed. Mark, always big-hearted and generous, started thinking about how the family could help his wife’s grandmother before he even met her.
     Suddenly, the door swung open, and there stood a small, thin woman.
     “Merry Christmas to you,” Jessa said nervously, “are you Mrs. Helen Morgan? Helen Rose Morgan?”
     “Why yes, that’s me,” she said, puzzled. She shivered as a gust of cold air blew into the warm room behind her.
     “We are the Washington family and we have come from across the border especially to see you. May we come in for just a moment? We have something we’d like to share with you.”
     Helen grew just a little nervous at the smiling strangers. Her eyes took in the tall African-American man with glasses and then moved to the pretty tan blue-eyed woman with dark curly hair. With them were two older children. The boy looked like he didn’t want to be there but the girl looked sweet. Who in the world would come visiting a stranger on Christmas day? How odd! She stared at them for a few more seconds before finally deciding they looked safe enough and inviting them inside.
     “Have a seat,” she said as she gestured to the sofa across the room. Her hands shook nervously as she second-guessed the wisdom of letting strangers into her home. She had heard horrible stories about wicked people who tricked and terrorized the elderly. What if they were going to steal from her? Or, even worse, kill her?
     There must have been a look of terror in her eyes, for Mark tenderly touched her shoulder and said, “Oh, Mrs. Morgan, you need not fear. We are here to share good news!”
     He moved to the slip-covered sofa and sat down. The family followed his lead and soon they were all squeezed there, side by side. Helen felt herself relax just a bit. They did seem like a very nice family.
     After they introduced themselves, they all sat there for a few awkward moments in silence, until finally Mark gave an imperceptible nod of his head to Jessa. At that, Jessa said a quick prayer for strength and then just decided to get it over with. Out it all came in one big rush, “Mrs. Morgan, we are here because, well, I think you are my grandmother.”
     Helen’s eyes grew big at this but she remained quiet.
     “You see, my father died in a car accident before I was born so I never met him. I knew his name was Kenneth Roy Morgan and thought about trying to find his family through the years but…”
     “Your father was Kenneth Roy Morgan?” Helen interrupted, aghast, “Are you sure? Kenny didn’t have any children.”
     As Jessa shared her story of how Kenny and Bernadette had met and then got married and had her, Helen started shaking uncontrollably.
     “Kenny’s daughter? You are Kenny’s daughter?” Helen kept saying it over and over again in disbelief.
     “Are you okay, Grandma?” Lacey rushed to her side in her typical fashion. To this precocious and loving child, this woman was her grandma and it made total sense to call her that. She had no idea that this name was a name that Helen never thought she would be called. The shock was almost too much.
     Mark stepped in, “Lacey would you go to the kitchen and get Mrs. Morgan a glass of water?”
     As she left to do her father’s bidding, he tenderly held Helen’s hand, “Mrs. Morgan, we are so sorry for the shock. A few weeks ago, Jessa’s mother died. This event awakened in her a desire to find her father’s family. As she searched, she realized that you are the only relative left on her father’s side. She wanted to meet you as soon as possible and so here we are. Are you okay?”
     Helen’s heart had stopped pounding as this new and wonderful thought started to seep into her brain and then settled into her heart. She had a family! She had a FAMILY! SHE HAD A FAMILY! The words just kept ringing in her ears.
     Happy tears made their way down her wrinkled face as unfamiliar hope started to grow in her heart. As she sipped the cup of water Lacey handed her, she looked at Jessa. She had felt like something was familiar about the woman but couldn’t figure out what. But, suddenly, she knew! It was her cobalt blue eyes. Kenneth had those same eyes. And the boy–Jessa’s son—he looked like Kenneth. How had she missed that earlier? Oh, he had darker skin but he had those same blue eyes and something about his face definitely reminded her of her boy at that age. She knew without a doubt that this family was telling her the truth.
     “Come here, dear,” Helen directed the gentle request to Jessa. When Jessa was kneeling in front of her, Helen put her frail hand up to caress her face, “Oh, how much I have missed. Oh, how dreadfully sorry I am that I wasn’t there for you and your mother. If only I had known,” she said sadly and then sat in silence for a few moments while Jessa tenderly held her hand and then Helen smiled and looked at the children, “So I suppose that makes you two my great-grandchildren!” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
     Logan gave a gentle smile—even he was effected by this reunion– but Lacey jumped to her feet and rushed to her great-grandmother’s side, talking a mile a minute, “So what would you like me to call you, Grandma? I mean, I know that you aren’t really my grandma, but “great-grandma” seems like such a long name to call you and since my other grandma just died, maybe you could kinda take her place? Well, not take her place exactly but be my grandma now that she’s gone? Would that be okay?—”she was prepared to go on but Mark quickly put a firm hand on her shoulder.
     “Shhh, Lacey,” he said quietly behind her.
     “Oh, don’t shush her,” said Helen merrily, “I haven’t had this much fun since–well, perhaps since your father left our home,” this she directed to Jessa, “It has been an awfully long time since I had some young blood around here and I am enjoying it immensely!”
     And, with that, she turned towards Lacey and the two of them chatted on and on, while the rest of the family sat quietly and listened.
     A little later in the evening, Mark asked if he could read the Christmas story and the family talked about God’s Son coming in a manger and how He would later grow up to die so that man could be forgiven and reconciled to God. They talked about Jesus like He was their friend. Helen was puzzled and unfamiliar with that part of the Bible.
     A few hours later, the family gathered their things together with a promise to return soon. Phone numbers were exchanged and Jessa promised to call Helen and check on her the next day. The family all hugged Helen good-bye like they had known her for years. Their coats were on and they were just about to leave when Jessa stopped in her tracks as she spotted the red candle.
     “That candle in the window…”
     “Oh, yes, that was one of your father’s favorite Christmas traditions!” smiled Helen, “Light a red candle to…”
     “Symbolize the light that Jesus brought to the world,” finished Jessa, “My mom and I did that in honor of my dad for all of my growing up years. In fact, I am continuing the tradition at my house now.”
     Helen’s heart felt like it would burst. Kenny’s memory was still alive in another soul besides her own. It was so comforting somehow.
     More hugs and then they were gone and the house grew strangely quiet again. Helen sat back down in her recliner with just the candle for light and reveled in pleasant thoughts of family picnics and dinners. She dreamed of going to gardens and concerts with her new family. And, most of all, of never having to spend another Christmas alone. After an hour of daydreaming, she blew out the candle in the window and went to bed.

______________________________________________________

     In the months and years to follow, Helen’s newfound family would fulfill all their promises and more to the elderly lady. They took her to concerts and gardens. They took her to doctor and dentist appointments. And Helen never spent another Christmas alone but was, instead, surrounded by her loving family. But, most of all, they introduced her to the baby in a manger. They told her that Jesus had died for her sins and that if she believed on Him as her Savior, she would be reconciled to God and spend eternity with Him in Heaven. Helen did believe and started studying her Bible during her many hours alone. Placing the red candle in the window each Christmas became even more special as Helen finally understood the real meaning of the long-held family tradition. And when, five years later, she slipped away quietly in her sleep, her family knew– without a shadow of a doubt–that they would see her again.

 

I hope you have enjoyed this 2016 Christmas story. As you probably already know, this is far outside my usual content. However, sometimes it is just nice to do something different! If you have enjoyed this story, would you take a moment to comment and let me know?

What My Gingerbread House Taught Me About Social Media

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Our culture has an obsession with pictures. In fact, most of the younger generation has abandoned Facebook for more photo-based apps like Instagram and Snapchat.  There is no denying that we live in a world that is dominated by photos.

Photos demanding we look better.

Photos demanding we have more stuff.

Photos telling us our homes aren’t enough. Our parenting skills are lacking. Our creativity is wanting.

Photos crying out that we just aren’t enough.

This has led to a culture of perpetual dissatisfaction and restlessness. If we aren’t careful, even those of us who are older can get caught up in this. We see warm family photos on Facebook and we think to ourselves–I wish I had that. We see teens winning awards, homes that should be in a magazine, and the creative projects of our talented friends and we think–if only…

But photos don’t show the whole story. They never show the whole story.

Which I learned in a big way the other night.

One of our daughters planned a family gingerbread house contest. Building gingerbread houses has been part of our Christmas family traditions for years now but this is the first time we had a contest. We took photos of the houses and put them on Facebook and let Facebook viewers choose the winner.

My husband and I were a team and I was excited because he is a master gingerbread house builder! As you may already know, he is a landscape designer so he has a great eye for design. Unfortunately for me, he had also had very little sleep the night before and had been out for a snow/ice event the whole day. The timing was not going to be helping us to clinch a win!

We started out pretty well. He was manning the icing bag and I was holding the graham crackers in place. It was going pretty well until we got to the roof. Just as we carefully placed the last cracker in its designated spot, the whole thing caved in. It was around that time that our grandson started to fuss in his high chair, so I decided to take on baby duty, confidently leaving the building of the house in the hands of my very capable husband.

A few minutes later, I came back to find my husband decorating half of a house!

I found out that he had tried twice more and the house just kept collapsing. Now on a different day– with a little more sleep and without a cute baby grandson begging his attention nearby–my husband would have kept trying. But on this night, he gave up. I handed the baby to him (which is exactly what he wanted!) and told him I’d finish decorating.

Then it was time to take the photos for Facebook. We moved our house to just the right angle and ended up with this–

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What the carefully taken photo didn’t show was this–

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So, we had an adequate house for our contest photo (can’t say it is our best work, by any means) but what no one could see was that it was completely unfinished in the back!

Oh, how this is the same for so much of what we see in our photo-driven world. How much we don’t see!

The model’s desperate battle with anorexia.

The movie star’s drug addiction.

The neighbor-down-the-street’s marriage issues.

The rebellious son’s antics of our picture-perfect church friend.

Social Media is a wonderful tool. It keeps us in touch with each other and we are able to cry and laugh and rejoice with one another. But sometimes the photos we see creep into our soul and give us a deep longing for something more. We start believing that God hasn’t give us enough and there is this illusive “perfect” life waiting for us out there somewhere.

Don’t be fooled! Not only is this untrue, believing this lie can potentially ruin marriages, families, and churches.

Scripture shows us that God is intentionally designing and directing our lives (Proverbs 16:9; Psalm 139:16), and it also shows us that it is God’s will that we be content with the life He has given us (Hebrews 13:5; I Timothy 6:6).

This can be a challenge for us in a world that is a swirling, writhing mass of discontentment.

If this is something you struggle with (like I do!), may I recommend the book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. It is an old book so it isn’t easy to read, but it is full of profound wisdom in this area of contentment.

I hope that our gingerbread house incident hasn’t only reminded me of the inadequacy of a photo but that it has also reminded you. I hope that we are all encouraged to consider this area of contentment in our lives as we view the world around us–particularly social media. Choosing contentment when everyone else around us is in a constant state of complaining dissatisfaction is truly one way we can really stand out as believers in Jesus Christ.

The Candle in the Window (Part 4)

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You may (or may not) have noticed that this is my first post this week. My daughter and son-in-law are here for the holidays so I decided to take a break. Not sure if/when I will write over the coming weeks, but I will be back at it in the new year. Thankfully, I wrote this story last month with this in mind. By the way, before moving on to the story, I just want to let you know that I will be offering a Growing4Life 2017 Bible Challenge. If you don’t have another plan in place, I hope that you will consider joining me! Look for the details soon!

Today I bring you the fourth installment of The Candle in the Window. If you have missed the first three parts, here are the links so you can catch up–

The Candle in the Window, Part 1

The Candle in the Window, Part 2

The Candle in the Window, Part 3

And, now, here is Part 4–

     Jessa carefully pulled the thick red candle from its tissue wrapping. A plastic holly candle ring, already unwrapped, lay on the floor beside her. As she held the candle, she could feel tears burn behind her eyes. Willing herself not to cry, she tenderly placed the candle on a glass plate and placed the holly ring over it. As she set it gently on the table in front of the window, one lone tear spilled over and made its way down her cheek.
     Unpacking the memories of Christmases long past was a heart-breaking affair. Her mother had loved Christmas. There were five boxes of beautiful–and sometimes tacky–Christmas decorations to prove it. Looking at the remaining boxes, Jessa thought it might be wise to wait until the kids got home from school to go through them. Their chatter would be a welcome distraction.
     She went to the kitchen and made a cup of coffee. She eyed the plate filled with Christmas cookies on the counter and then picked up a couple of them and placed them on a napkin. Taking her coffee and cookies back to the family room, she sat down in a comfortable chair and picked up the novel that she was currently reading. Perhaps immersing herself within its pages would take her mind off of just how much she missed her mom.
     A few minutes later, she sighed and closed her book. She had just read the same page four times. Putting the book on the table beside her, she sat munching on a cookie. Childhood memories of her mother and Christmases long past flooded her mind. Mother and daughter had weathered many trials as a team and the bond between them had been strong. Christmas had always been a happy break from the hard times and Jessa was so thankful for the memories. However, reviewing them was painful and the fact that her mom had died just a few weeks before the holiday wasn’t make it any easier.
     Her eyes fell on the red candle. They had had Christmases without a Christmas tree. They had gone without turkeys and wreaths and gingerbread and presents. But they never had a Christmas without that red candle in the window.
     The candle reminded her of her father. She had never met him but the red candle in the window had always been placed there in his honor. Her mother had told Jessa that the candle was one of her father’s favorite Christmas traditions from his childhood home and how the young couple had gone to the local Woolworth’s to buy their first bright red candle and cheap plastic ring of holly. It was the only Christmas decoration her parents could afford to buy that first and only Christmas together as a married couple.
     What had her father been like? She had seen a photo or two but photos told so very little. Nettie had told Jessa that she felt like she never really knew the man her father would have become as he grew in the Lord. Nettie had often shared the story with Jessa of how she had married an unbeliever and counseled her daughter not to follow in her footsteps. But she had rejoiced that God had saved him! Oh, how she rejoiced! Especially since he was gone a few short weeks later. And Nettie would then tell her daughter how her father had repented of his sins and accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior just before the tragic car accident that took his life. She told Jessa that after her father was saved he had stopped drinking with his friends and how grateful she was for those few precious weeks of happy memories.
     Jessa knew little else about him—except that he was a white man from New York. And that his name was Kenneth. Kenneth Roy Morgan.

 

The Candle in the Window (Part 3)

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Each Friday during this holiday season I am unfolding one part of a five-part Christmas story I wrote. Today is Part 3. (You can find Parts 1 & 2 here and here if you missed them.)

     Marge tapped her fingers impatiently on her kitchen counter as she waited for Helen to pick up the phone. Marge and Helen had been friends for a long time, but they couldn’t be more opposite. Helen, quiet and frail, was often eclipsed by blustery, outspoken Marge who was thin as a rail, healthy as a horse, and still sharp as a tack.
     “Hello?” Helen had finally answered.
     “Helen? Are you okay? It took you awhile to get to the phone,” shouted Marge into the receiver.
     “I’m fine, Marge. The phone was on the other side of the room and I don’t move as quickly these days,” Helen reminded her.
     “Yeah, yeah, I know what you mean,” Marge said, even though she really didn’t have any idea what she meant. She continued, “So I am calling to find out if you want to come along to Brenda’s this Christmas Eve? We’d really like you to come.”
     Brenda, Marge’s daughter, had the entire family at her home every Christmas Eve. It was full of laughter and fun and joy. And Helen hated it.
     Several years ago, she had finally told Marge she would go along with her. A few minutes into the evening she knew she would never go again. As she had sat there alone watching the children play together and listening to the conversations around her it was just a fresh reminder that she didn’t really belong anywhere.
     “Helen! You still there?” asked Marge, a little impatiently.
     Marge’s question brought Helen’s mind back to the present. She quickly came up with an excuse, just as she did every year, “Aw, Marge, thanks so much for asking me. Unfortunately, with this damp weather, my arthritis has been really acting up lately. I’d better just stay home.”
     “Okay, Helen Irene Morgan, if that is the way you want it,” Marge always used Helen’s full name when she was a bit perturbed with her. But, while she was a little irritated, she certainly wasn’t surprised at Helen’s refusal to join them. Lame excuses were what she had come to expect. It still saddened her that her friend would be all alone on Christmas Eve and so Marge decided that this year she wouldn’t let that happen. She continued after a brief moment, “How about I eat dinner with my family and then come to your house afterward? It might be kind of nice to have a quiet Christmas Eve for a change,” Marge spoke the words even though she didn’t mean them.
     “Are you sure, Marge? I wouldn’t want to…”
     “Of course, I’m sure.”
     Helen responded with a grateful sigh, “thank you, Marge. I would like that.”
     The two friends spent the next few moments on the phone talking about what Christmas movie they would watch that night. Marge liked What a Wonderful Life and Helen’s favorite was Christmas in Connecticut. Finally, Marge laughed and said, “Let’s watch both!”
     And so the plans were made. A little smile tugged at the corners of Helen’s mouth as she hung up the phone.
     She sat down at her Formica kitchen table for a few moments and basked in the warm glow that came at the thought of not having to spend Christmas Eve alone this year. It was a very odd thing–this being without any living relatives. Her husband had been an only child and so there were no relatives on that side of the family except for a few scattered cousins. Helen had had a sister, Ida Jane, but she had never married and had died from a fast-moving cancer in her 40s. It all seemed so long ago now. Time had passed and gradually dulled the emptiness of it all and Helen had grown quite used to not having a family. In fact, most times it didn’t bother her. Except for this time of year. What was it about having family around at Christmas?
     The lurking shadow of loneliness dissipated as she shook her head to clear the old memories away and determined to have a good attitude. After all, this year she didn’t have to spend Christmas Eve alone! She tuned the radio to a station playing Christmas carols and hummed along as she washed the dishes.

The Candle in the Window (Part 2)

candleinthewindow

Each Friday this Christmas season I am unfolding part of a Christmas story I wrote. Today is Part 2. (You can find Part 1 here, if you missed it.)

     Jessa stared at her tanned skin and thick, curly hair in the mirror. It was a strange thing—this being part black and part white. Which world did she belong to? Even as a 50-year-old, she still didn’t really know. She washed her face and brushed her teeth as she pondered this question that had resided somewhere in the back of her mind for her whole life.
     A few moments later found her staring at the contents of her closet. What does one wear to their mother’s funeral? She found her favorite black sweater and looked it over. This? She dropped the sleeve of the sweater and lifted the hanger of a black and gray print shirt. Or this?
     Finally settling on a pair of flattering black trousers and the print shirt, she started to put on her favorite heels. And then she remembered that this day would mean being on her feet for many hours, at which point she put on her black flats instead.
     “Logan? Lacey? You ready to go?” She called her 15-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter as she walked out of her room.
     Mark, her husband, met her downstairs and gave her a warm embrace, “I’m so sorry, honey. I know how hard this is.”
     Jessa felt her eyes start to burn at his kind words. She quickly swiped at her eyes. She couldn’t start crying already. The funeral hadn’t even begun.

**********************************

     Ten long hours later, they came home exhausted after a long day of talking to people who had loved Bernadette Williams, lovingly called Grandma Nettie by almost all who knew her.
     As they sat down in the family room, Logan and Lacey started talking about Aunt Althea’s crushing hugs. Althea, Grandma Nettie’s youngest sister, was a large, matronly woman who loved on others by wrapping them in her arms and squeezing them tight. The family started laughing, which was a welcome relief from the many tears that had been shed that day. Nettie had had a very short battle with cancer and her family was still in shock over her quick departure from this earth. However, her vibrant relationship with her Heavenly Father and her faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation gave them calm assurance that they would most certainly see her again.
     They continued to talk about memories of Grandma Nettie when, out of the blue, Lacey turned to her mother with an unexpected question.
     “Mom, whatever happened to your dad?”
     Jessa was rather surprised that Lacey hadn’t asked this question before. She remembered having a conversation about this with Logan when he was around the same age and she answered her the same way she had answered Logan, “He died before I was born.”
     “Oh.”
     Jessa figured that was the end of it. But Lacey had another question.
     “Have you ever tried to find his family? Wouldn’t it be so cool to meet them and see what they look like?” Lacey’s eyes lit up as she pondered the excitement of solving a lifelong mystery. This was so typical of Lacey. Always dreaming about possibilities and ever passionate about solving mysteries.
     It wasn’t like Jessa had never considered it before. Once, when she was seventeen, she and her mother had had a long talk about it. Nettie had given her blessing for Jessa to search for her dad’s family but something had held her back. Perhaps it was the knowledge that her father had left his family under bad terms. Whatever it was, she had decided at that time to just be content with her life the way it was.
     Until today. Until Lacey’s question.
     Perhaps it was because Jess was now truly an orphan—both her mother and father were gone. It made her feel empty. Honestly, this whole day was making her feel a little unsettled inside. She gave a deep sigh. Funny how a question from a 13-year-old can change everything.

 

Hallmark’s Reason for the Season

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The other night I was watching a Hallmark Christmas movie. Yes, I know they are super predictable and, generally, have the same theme every single time. But don’t judge me. They are clean and, overall, fairly innocent. At least that is what most of us believe.

But is this true? Are they as innocent as we may think?

Does something become good for us to watch simply because it doesn’t have bad language, sexual content, or violence?

While I am not saying that we should never watch Hallmark movies, I do think there is some value in evaluating the messages of their movies and to contemplate how this production company is secularizing Christmas.

So let’s go back to the other night, when I was watching that movie. At one point, there is a conversation about the meaning of Christmas. What is the meaning of Christmas?

Do we hear something about Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men? Do we hear of the Christ child and the glorious hope for man to be reconciled with God? No, instead, we hear some ambiguous message about the “love we all feel in our hearts towards each other”.

Look, I am not saying that we don’t feel those things around the holidays. And I am not saying that is not a good thing. But things have really changed.

Years ago, even the secular movies would have made some reference to baby Jesus. Some movies would even mix baby Jesus and Santa all together. But at least there was a reference to the religious message of the season.

It wasn’t until the other night that I realized just how secular our nation has become. Hollywood rarely even mentions the name of Christ during Christmas. City scenes never have a manger scene and Luke 2 is never read. God is seldom mentioned and if He is, it usually has to do with a very unbiblical portrayal of angels.

Instead, in many ways, this culture has gone back to the pagan roots of the holiday and Christmas has become a godless holiday centered on the glory of man and materialistic consumerism.

So what does this mean for us? I think it means two things–

First, we each need to decide just how much we are going to fill our minds with entertainment that promotes a very secular worldview during this holiday season. I am not saying it is a sin to watch the occasional Hallmark movie. But let’s be very aware of what each movie is saying (or not saying) about Christmas. Let’s not mindlessly consume the entertainment of the age, even if it is morally okay. We need to always give thought to the philosophies that are being taught in anything we watch and that includes Christmas movies.

(and perhaps we should think about watching less entertainment during this time of year and filling our evenings with things that have nothing to do with the television…)

Second, we have a special way we can now stand apart from the world over the holiday season. As we talk about Christmas with our neighbors, co-workers, and friends, let’s be sure to mention the Bible’s reason to celebrate the season. Let’s consider the Gospel and how we can share it with those we love as we give gifts. And let’s keep the focus of Christmas where it belongs for our children, our grandchildren, and for our extended families as much as we possibly can. Let’s not get caught up in the shallow, secularized version of Christmas that is now celebrated by most of the world.

Every now and again I realize just how very different America is compared to when I was a kid (and, honestly, it wasn’t all that great then). But it wasn’t until the other night as I was watching that movie that I realized just how far we have come from our Christian roots. Many would laud that as a wonderful thing–they have been working towards that for years. But they are short-sighted and blissfully unaware of where relativism and immorality lead any culture. It is a sad, sad thing to watch.

Thankfully, through it all, we have the opportunity to shine brightly for Christ. We have a wonderful message of hope to share. Let’s share it freely and often. And there is no better time to shine than during the Christmas season!

 

 

The Candle in the Window (Part 1)

candleinthewindow

This Christmas season I have decided to do something a bit different here on the blog. I have written a five-part Christmas story and will share one part of it each Friday, starting today. The final part will be shared on Friday, December 23rd. I know this is way outside my usual style of writing, and, honestly, it is a bit outside of my comfort zone. But sometimes it is nice to mix things up a bit! I hope you enjoy it. So without further ado, I present to you Part 1 of The Candle in the Window

     Helen’s uncooperative hands shook as she struck the match against its box. It took three tries before the match and the box finally connected. The warm flame wobbled as her hand stretched towards the simple red pillar candle that sat surrounded by a fake holly candle ring in the deep sill of the front window. As the match brought the wick of the candle to life, Helen’s heart was filled with an odd and comfortable nostalgia. She hobbled to her recliner and sat down with a deep sigh.
     Alone. Always alone. The loneliness was especially painful at Christmastime. It had been five years now. Thoughts of Roy, her husband of fifty-five years, brought a smile. They had been through so much together. Until a massive heart attack had ended his life one cold, blustery day in January. Oh, how Helen wished she had died first. Instead, she was left to roam this house and find something to do, day after day, month after month, year after lonely year. The past year had been especially lonely as her worsening arthritis limited her activities severely.
     Her friend, Marge, wasn’t lonely. Oh, how she envied her! Her children and grandchildren visited regularly, taking her to special restaurants and beautiful gardens and church concerts. Great-grandchildren danced and played around her feet, calling her “Granny”. Helen couldn’t help but compare it to her too-quiet life. Once in awhile, Marge invited her to a family outing. But this inevitably reminded Helen of all that she was missing and so she generally refused Marge’s offers.
     Unbidden, thoughts of Kenneth filled her mind. Her precious boy. What would her life have been like if Kenneth had come home from Canada? Would she have grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Or would his teen-aged rebellion have led him to completely sever ties with his parents forever?
     She would never know. That is probably what ate at her soul the most. She would never know.
     Kenneth would be close to 70 now if he were alive. Her heart would still fill with shame, even after all of these years, when she remembered the circumstances of her pregnancy. She remembered the dismay of being unwed and pregnant at 16, the love that she and Roy had shared even as teenagers, and the hurried wedding they were forced into at an all-too-young age. It had all worked out, although her father had never really forgiven her for bringing such dishonor to the family name.
     After they were married, Helen fully expected her home to be filled with happy children. She waited excitedly for the siblings that would join Kenneth. But as the years came and went, her hopes for a large family started to dwindle. When Kenneth was six years old, there was the excitement of a pregnancy, but hopes were dashed almost before they took root when she miscarried at twelve weeks. Helen never got pregnant again.
     From that time on, all of her mother’s love and energy were poured into the little boy that had resulted from an unwanted pregnancy. The happy little youngster had been so kind and thoughtful, always thinking of others. And smart! He was smart as a whip! Helen remembered proudly. But in the turmoil of the sixties, dear Kenny had taken up with some friends who were not a very good influence. He started growing his hair, using marijuana, and became an outspoken protester of the Vietnam War. As Helen struggled to communicate and discuss the issues with their son, Roy, on the other hand, was just furious. One crisp autumn day, he had finally told Kenny that if he was going to turn his back on his country, then he was turning his back on his family and was no longer welcome to stay in their home.
     Helen could still remember Kenny angrily packing his things and carrying them out to his beat-up VW van. As he shoved and stuffed it full of all of his earthly belongings, she had pleaded with him to stay. When he had brusquely told her to get out of his way, she had gone to find Roy, who was sitting in stone silence in his recliner, staring blankly at the evening news on the black and white TV. Roy, too, had ignored her pleas and within an hour, Kenneth had driven off towards the sun that was setting on the horizon.
     Helen had spent the next weeks in despair. Where was their boy? And how would she ever be able to forgive Roy for driving their son away? Even now, all these years later, Helen wondered if she had ever truly forgiven him. The pain, buried under other memories now, still plagued her sometimes. Somehow the couple had learned to live with their new normal. Each new day was just a tad bit easier than the one before and within a year of Kenny’s departure Helen and Roy had reached a truce of sorts. They were fine– as long as the subject of Kenneth wasn’t raised. During that time, Helen longed to hear something—anything— from her son, but nary a word came. Until that fateful day.
     Oh, how she hated that day.
     Eddy, Kenneth’s best friend during that tumultuous time, had knocked on their door about two years after the departure. Roy was at work at the time. As Eddy stood at the door, nervously pulling at his scruffy beard, Helen could see that he was visibly upset. She invited him in and offered him a cup of coffee. He said no thanks and without even sitting down, proceeded to tell her that Kenneth had been killed in a car accident a month ago. He and Eddy had moved to Canada to avoid the draft and one snowy evening, the boys were on their way back from the grocery store when they had hit a slick spot and slid off the road and into a tree. Eddy had escaped with just a few bruises but Kenneth had been killed on impact.
     Helen had stood there shocked. So this was how it was all to end? Her beloved son was gone from this earth for forever?
     Even now, all these years later, Helen’s eyes filled with tears. They started to trickle down her weathered face. She drew comfort from the red candle, one of Kenneth’s favorite boyhood traditions of Christmas. They would light a red candle in the window each holiday season to symbolize the light Jesus had brought to the world at Christmastime.
     Reminiscing always tired Helen and after an hour she pulled her old body up out of her chair, blew out the candle, and went to bed.

How Do You Say Good-Bye?

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This year brought so many changes into my life. It was an exciting, exhausting, and emotional year. With two weddings and the announcement that we are going to be grandparents, life took a turn that I knew was coming but, for some reason, was not really prepared for. I guess it’s a little like when you get married or become a parent–you can try to prepare for what you know is coming, but there is no way to really understand until you are in the midst of the new situation, taking one day at a time.

Another big change we had this year was that one of our daughter’s and her husband moved across country after their wedding. The two of them made plans to come home for the holidays and so only three weeks ago we were waiting for them with great anticipation. We have had a wonderful time with them the past couple of weeks.

But, eventually, our final moments together approached.

We are all familiar with them. Those last few hours of time together. Wanting to make the most of it. But not really quite sure how. Talking about weather and places and people. Trying to ignore the fact that, all too soon, we will have to say good-bye for another few months or longer.

Every hello means an eventual good-bye. For some of us we are the visitors, packing up our families to stay with parents or siblings over the holidays. For others of us, we are the parents and siblings the rest come to see. Whatever we do over the holidays, most of us experience sweet hellos and sad good-byes during this time.

We get together, spending an unusual amount of time together. We try to get along, knowing that we won’t see each other again for who knows how long. It can be a challenge for so many people to live together in one house, but, for so many of us, this time spent with family is just such a wonderful blessing.

It is a strange emotion–this dread to say good-bye to our loved ones but this yearning to go back to the routine of life that we are so familiar with. And we wonder why we can’t have our routine and the people we love in our lives at the same time. But that’s just not how it is. And, for many of us, will never be how it is. It’s just life in this day and age of careers, callings, and desires drawing people to live in places all over the country. And all over the world.

And so we have joyful holiday reunions and tearful good-byes. And we thank the Lord for bringing us together again and ask Him if He would bless us with another visit again next year.

And then things settle back down to our normal routine again and we have to be satisfied with e-mails, texting, and Skype. It’s just how it is.

No spiritual lesson here today. Just a mother’s heart that was sad to say good-bye. Again. Do we ever get used to this?

 

One of our attempts at a family photo over the holidays…

p.s. Did you make it through the 2015 Bible Challenge? If so, visit my growing4life Facebook page and let me know!

How Did That Happen?

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The other night as I stood over the sink, cleaning up from another big meal I had planned and prepared during this holiday season, I suddenly realized that somehow over the past 25 years I went from being completely incapable in the kitchen to being able to prepare a meal for 10-20 family members and/or close friends and not even be really stressed about it.

When did that happen? Or perhaps a better question is: How did that happen?

First, you have to understand that hospitality would not be my natural gift. Food preparation and serving takes me way outside my comfort zone. Way outside.

I remember the first meal I cooked for my in-laws. I have this vague memory of burning the peas. I was so incredibly stressed. Not because of them–they were more than gracious. It was just so stressful to plan and prepare meals for even two extra people who I wanted to impress. It wasn’t much better the next time I tried to host a couple from our church for Sunday lunch–we arrived home to find that I had never turned the oven on for the roast!

But I survived those embarrassing incidents of hosting guests in that tiny apartment we first called home and just kept trying. And, gradually, over the years, somehow everything changed.

But that change only occurred because I forced myself to have that first meal. And then a second. And then a third. Had I just refused to have people in my home from the beginning or even after those first couple attempts–using my fear and inability as an excuse– I would not be where I am today.

And it’s a great reminder that sometimes we need to step forward in faith to do the good works God has prepared for us despite the fear and the inability. Despite the failures.

We will never change if we don’t start walking in the direction we want to go. We won’t accomplish much if we never even try.

Sure, it took me a really long time to get here. But I did get here. Sure, I still have failures sometimes (like making the pineapple stuffing a little too crispy on Christmas day!) But now I know that I can survive failures without the world coming to an end.

Life is good. But it’s way better if we know we are doing the will of God and living to glorify Him, despite our personal fears and insecurities.

Is there anything that you know God has called you to do that is just way outside your comfort zone? Perhaps it is witnessing to a co-worker or starting to tithe? Maybe it is disciplining your children properly or memorizing scripture? Showing hospitality, getting rid of the TV, getting involved in a ministry at your church or asking someone to forgive you–these are all things that take great courage. But if we never try, we will never change.

As we contemplate this year’s end, may we reflect on what it is that God would like us to change this coming year. Let’s start thinking about how we may be better able to please Him by making a change or two in our lives, taking that first step of faith forward. Let’s show the world around us that we are never satisfied with status quo.

 

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

And a Merry Christmas Message

Christmas Dinner

So many of us consider ourselves pretty good Christians. We don’t drink in excess, we don’t steal from our bosses or cheat on our taxes. We have been faithful to our spouses and we go to church almost every Sunday. All good things.

But there is nothing like a week full of family get-togethers to remind us of our sinful natures. This is where the “rubber meets the road” in our profession of Christianity.

As families go, I am pretty blessed. But in every family we have the potential of run-ins and relationship problems because we all are different– we have different priorities and we have differing views on religion and politics. We don’t raise our kids the same way. And we don’t feel passionate about the same things. Some of us tend to be very loud and boisterous and others of us are quiet and reserved. All this means that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. How that plays out is not the same in every family.

Some families have loud debates or even arguments. Other families are full of sarcastic remarks that infuse every family gathering. In some families, it is just a cold, unbreakable tension that lies underneath all that goes on during their times together.

Hurtful remarks. Sarcastic comments. Cold shoulders.

They can all add up to a real lack of peace among family members.

And I am here to encourage you not to be part of any of it.

As Christians dedicated to growing in holiness each and every day, let’s be the ones that bring peace and unity to the family.

What does this look like in practical terms?

These thoughts came to my mind this morning before I started my Bible reading this morning. A few minutes later I read this in I Peter 3—

8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;[a] 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.

These verses give us such clear instructions on how to relate to others—practical and helpful as we face a week of family get-togethers and parties with friends.

We are to be of one mind. This is what Matthew Henry writes in his commentary about this sameness of mind that we are to have with other believers—

Christians should endeavour to be all of one mind in the great points of faith, in real affection, and in Christian practice; they should be like-minded one to another, according to Christ Jesus (Rom. 15:5 ), not according to man’s pleasure, but God’s word.

This unity can only be experienced with our Christian brothers and sisters. We will not be able to be unified with unbelievers, as we are categorically in opposition as we journey towards two opposite goals.

However, even if we can’t be unified with unbelieving family members, we can certainly practice being compassionate, tender-hearted, and courteous, can’t we? We can practice returning good for evil. We can choose to bless, rather than to choose revenge.

Revenge is such an ugly word, but in everyday life it can be very tempting to exact. It’s not always something dreadful but can instead be how we choose respond to a person–making sarcastic remarks  or ignoring them, as we seethe in our souls.

Every day offers us opportunities to live out I Peter 3:8-10. But there are few times each year that offer us so many opportunities to practice this than during the Christmas season–a time that taxes even the closest of families.

May we be the ones that bring a breath of fresh air to our family gatherings. Let’s be the ones that offer abundant grace and blessing, no matter how hurtful the remark or how unkind the deed. It may not be easy, but we have the Holy Spirit guiding and directing us. Let’s walk in the Spirit and choose to show loving-kindness with a joyful heart this holiday season!

**On a different note**
I’d like to thank you, dear reader, for joining me on my journey to grow in Christ this past year. I count it as a privilege and a blessing that you would use some of your precious time to read my posts. I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.