Wednesday Wisdom: Lord of the Harvest

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis reading, taken from Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening devotions seems especially appropriate as this is the time of year where we really start enjoying the fresh fruits and vegetables of an abundant harvest. Just as harvest time brings glorious days for the farmer, so, too, it is a great time to remember the mercy and provision of our heavenly Father. 

All the year round, every hour of every day, God is richly blessing us; both when we sleep and when we wake His mercy waits upon us. The sun may leave us a legacy of darkness, but our God never ceases to shine upon His children with beams of love. Like a river, His lovingkindness is always flowing, with a fulness inexhaustible as His own nature. Like the atmosphere which constantly surrounds the earth, and is always ready to support the life of man, the benevolence of God surrounds all His creatures; in it, as in their element, they live, and move, and have their being. Yet as the sun on summer days gladdens us with beams more warm and bright than at other times, and as rivers are at certain seasons swollen by the rain, and as the atmosphere itself is sometimes fraught with more fresh, more bracing, or more balmy influences than heretofore, so is it with the mercy of God; it hath its golden hours; its days of overflow, when the Lord magnifieth His grace before the sons of men. Amongst the blessings of the nether springs, the joyous days of harvest are a special season of excessive favour. It is the glory of autumn that the ripe gifts of providence are then abundantly bestowed; it is the mellow season of realization, whereas all before was but hope and expectation. Great is the joy of harvest. Happy are the reapers who fill their arms with the liberality of heaven. The Psalmist tells us that the harvest is the crowning of the year. Surely these crowning mercies call for crowning thanksgiving! Let us render it by the inward emotions of gratitude. Let our hearts be warmed; let our spirits remember, meditate, and think upon this goodness of the Lord. Then let us praise Him with our lips, and laud and magnify His name from whose bounty all this goodness flows. Let us glorify God by yielding our gifts to His cause. A practical proof of our gratitude is a special thank-offering to the Lord of the harvest.

Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening

Found Out a Little Too Late

The Color Run, Baltimore

The Color Run, Baltimore

It all started when I decided to start running again. I began getting severe pain in my left knee, but I figured it was just because I hadn’t run in awhile, so I pushed through it. But when the pain became excruciating, I decided to use the elliptical machine for a little while to try to settle it down a bit. About a week before my scheduled Color Run (the reason I started running again), I decided to finally go see the doctor.

He looked at it, poked and prodded a bit, and then put me on an anti-inflammatory, telling me to use it as much as I was able and to come back if it doesn’t get better.

Fast forward four weeks. I took the pills, ran only about a third of the 5K and walked the rest.  And then I came home and limped around for awhile. But the more I used the knee the more excruciating the pain became until I was forced to return to the doctor. He scheduled an MRI, which I had done yesterday. I am now waiting for the official results.

So why do I tell you this? I assure you that it is not to garner your pity, concern, or prayers. It’s just a knee. I can still walk and do what I have to do. I am not dying.

But here’s the thing– every time I sit down, every time I get up, every time I move that left leg, every time I bend or lift or stand or walk, I feel pain.

And I realized something. I have had over 45 years of trouble-free knees that I took completely for granted. I never thought about how well they worked or how much my life would be affected if they don’t. All of a sudden, I am calculating just how much walking a trip to the mall will be or just how long I can work in the garden without completely debilitating myself. Almost everything is now done with that painful knee in mind.

Chicago sang a song in the 80s called “Hard Habit to Break.” In that song is this line:

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, and I found out a little too late.

That’s just so true, isn’t it? This singer is singing this song about a relationship he lost with a special girl, but we could sing these lines about many valuable blessings in our lives that were never appreciated until they were lost, couldn’t we?

~Our babies and toddlers.

~Our youthful, wrinkle-free bodies

~Our good health

~The financial means to meet our needs and many of our wants

~A job

~Our parents

~Our siblings

~Our spouse

~Our vehicle, or refrigerator, or washing machine, or dishwasher

~Our cell phone

How many of these things have we ever said thank you for? How many of them have we lost and then went on to complain about? Whether it be the death of a loved one (a BIG deal) or a broken cell phone (so minor in the scope of life, it’s hardly even worth mentioning)?

To keep myself filled with a heart of a gratitude, I started a journal about six months ago. In it, I write three things for which I am thankful. I don’t write every day or even every other day. But a few times each month, I stop for a moment  to truly ponder what I am thankful for and to give whole-hearted thanks to God.

Funny how my knees never made it in on that list. I guess I will be writing “working knees” the next time.

I want to appreciate what I have while I have it, instead of missing it and realizing a little too late just how incredibly much I had been blessed.

 

Wednesday Wisdom: Thinking Outside Our Box

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It was mid-afternoon and I was running out of energy after a busy morning. I decided it was the perfect time for a cup of coffee. I put a cup into the Kuerig and while it brewed I noticed the May issue of the Voice of the Martyrs newsletter lying on the table. Perfect. I would read while I took a short coffee break.  

For a few moments I entered a different world. In this world being a Christian means great sacrifice. I read of a couple who lost a job, their home, and familiar surroundings because of their new found faith. As I turned the page, I learned of a  family whose father was ruthlessly shot in front of his young children while his wife had run out to help a neighbor. 

I was overwhelmed with how small so many of my problems are. And challenged, too, wondering how strong I would be in similar circumstances. I felt a deep sense of sympathy for my Christian brothers and sisters in other lands. But, mostly, I felt admiration for the firm faith of these believers as they face the unthinkable. Their faith does not disappear under the weight of their trials, but grows stronger. Surely our God is alive! 

I wanted to share one of the stories here with you, but I could not find the newsletter online. However, I did find a very similar one on their website. Please take time to read this. I can say with assurance that many (of course, not all) of our trials pale in comparison. Violent movies and video games are part of almost all American homes, and yet most of us aren’t willing to face the very real violence that goes on every day in the lives of those who love the Lord Jesus. They deserve our prayers. Let’s step outside our comfortable boxes for just a moment–

Four months ago, National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas demanded that Alicia Castilla leave her home in Arauca, in northeastern Colombia. On the evening of Jan. 7, during a visit from the family’s pastor, assassins entered her home and shot her in front of her three children and her father. She died immediately. The guerrillas had killed Alicia’s husband, a lay-minister, two years earlier.

The guerrillas told Alicia’s 18-year-old son, Hernán, that the rest of the family had three days to leave the region. After that, they warned, the killers would return and kill the other family members one by one.

Alicia was the widow of lay-evangelist Nelson Ramos, who was killed by the ELN in January 2011. Nelson became a Christian two years before his death and often shared the gospel in Saravena, a town near Colombia’s border with Venezuela. A few months after his conversion, the ELN issued its first expulsion order against him and his family.

According to Hernán, the guerrillas never fully explained why they were so adamant about driving the family out of the area. Nelson was shot to death in the family’s home as his wife and two small daughters, now 9 and 6, watched.

After Nelson’s death, Hernán declared that he would avenge his father. He intended to join the Colombian military to gain training in weaponry, but he renounced his vow after a July 2011 encounter with children whose parents had been killed because of their Christian witness. Instead of seeking revenge, he was baptized and became deeply involved in church activities.

Hernán’s mother was at a workshop for widows of martyred believers in December when ELN guerrillas visited their home and warned them for the third time to leave the area. Although Alicia was willing to move, her elderly father was not.

After Alicia’s murder, government authorities refused to remove her body from the crime scene for fear of retaliation by the ELN. Funeral-home workers finally retrieved her body.

Founded in 1964, the ELN is one of several illegal armed groups fighting for control of the rich petroleum resources along the Colombia/Venezuela border. The guerrilla groups use the Arauca area as a narcotrafficking route. They forcibly recruit children into their ranks and persecute those who oppose them, including the church.

You can read more stories of faith and courage at persecution.com. It’s a great site to visit for a “perspective check”.  Voice of the Martyrs is an important ministry that helps persecuted believers and is worthy of our support. And, no, I have not been paid to say that! ;) 

You can find the above story here.

 

Wednesday Wisdom: Let the Children Come

IMG_0749How precious are the souls of children!  For some reason, many of us mistakenly believe that working with children is somehow less important than working with adults. But in Matthew 19:13-15, we read the beautiful story of Jesus’s interest in the little children. They were worthy of His time and they should be worthy of ours. This song by Michael Card, written about that passage, touched my heart when I heard it the other day. Oh, how precious are the children! And oh, how right Michael Card is when he wrote the line: The springtime of their life decides the adults they’ll become. 

What a privilege it is to serve children. I thank God for godly teachers and Sunday School teachers and mentors. God has used so many of them to change lives. May God bless them!

LET THE CHILDREN COME

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Jesus looked so weary
from the worries of the day
But the look on his face lightened
when the children come His way
Before He could reach out to them
and join them in their play
His grown-up band of followers
told the kids to go away
 
Let the Children Come
Don’t dare drive them away
And then the kingdom comes
Hear the holy, foolish things they sayIMG_1069
The springtime of their life decides 
the adults they’ll become
So let the children come
Please let the children come
 
The golden gift of childhood 
Lasts a lifetime if you try
The simple trusting faith they hold
Keeps scholars mystified
And so the Lord adopts us
As His daughters and His sons
For the Kingdom is for Children
So please let the children come
 IMG_1349
Let the Children Come
Don’t dare drive them away
And then the kingdom comes
Hear the holy, foolish things they say
The springtime of their life decides 
the adults they’ll become
So let the children come
Please let the children comeIMG_3396IMG_2812 IMG_1079
 
 

Wednesday Wisdom: The Pledge

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What are our rights as Christians? Do we have the right to a beautiful home and two cars? Do we have the right to have a healthy family? Do we have the right to be happy?

Perhaps most of Christians’ heartaches, contentions, and worries are born because of this thinking that we have special rights.

I came across this pledge the other day, written by a Sunday School teacher named Russell Kelfer. He was a Bible teacher at Wayside Chapel in San Antonio, Texas for over 20 years and has left us many lessons, poems, and stories. But perhaps nothing he wrote is so convicting as this Christian Pledge. Could you sign this?

____________________________

Having been born into the kingdom of God, I do hereby acknowledge that God’s purchase of my life included all the rights and control of that life for all eternity.

I do further acknowledge that He has not guaranteed me to be free from pain or to have success or prosperity. He has not guaranteed me perfect health. He has not guaranteed me perfect parents. He has not guaranteed me perfect children. He has not guaranteed me the absence of pressures, trials, misunderstandings, or persecution.

What He has promised me is eternal life. What He has promised me is abundant life. What He has promised me is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, meekness, and self-control. He has given me all of Himself in exchange for the rights to my life.

Therefore I acknowledge this day the relinquishment of all my rights and expectations, and humbly ask Him by His grace to replace these with a grateful spirit, for whatever in His wisdom He deems to allow for my life.

 
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Your signature here
 
 
 
 

But It’s All I’ve Got

 thankful heart
 
My house is getting old and needs updating
But it’s the only house I’ve got
And it’s a home full of love and memories
 
I’m driving around in a car with  a big dent
But it’s the only car I’ve got
And it gets me where I need to go
 
Going back to work on Monday is hard
But it’s the only job I’ve got
And I know many do not have a job at all
 
My family can drive me crazy
But they are the only family I’ve got
I can’t imagine what I’d do without them
 
Sometimes I don’t like what God allows in my life
But He’s the one and only God
And I know He knows best
 

This is just a silly poem that I thought of last night as I was laying in my bed complaining in my heart about some minor irritation. I was suddenly hit with the thought: what if that person was no longer in your life? That thought immediately changed my feelings from irritation to overwhelming gratitude. I thought of how blessed I am, not only in that relationship, but in so many ways.

But when we focus on the negative, we have a hard time finding those blessings. So today, let’s flip flop it. When a negative thought wants to surface about your situation or a family member or your house or your car or a friend, take a moment and think about what your life would be like without them. Sometimes–for the little stuff–that is enough to put your world back in perspective.

But if it’s not and there is a genuine problem to be solved, bring a heart of gratitude for the blessings you do have and for what the Lord is teaching you. This will serve as an encouragement and a help as you work through the problem.

I know I’ve written on this topic many times before. But, as my thoughts showed me last night, I still have a long way to go. And, just in case I am not alone, I didn’t figure it would hurt to write a reminder for myself and anyone else who needs it!

Psalm 79:13  So we, Your people and sheep of Your pasture, Will give You thanks forever; We will show forth Your praise to all generations.

 

 

My Compass in Uncharted Territory

954282_65316292 (1)After a busy, busy weekend, I was completely exhausted. I decided to turn on the TV. One of my favorite shows from the 90s was on. It was almost over, but I made myself comfortable and started to watch. I laughed at the family dynamics that are so part of any household.

One of the boys, on the cusp of teenager-hood, had done something really stupid. As the credits rolled, the parents joked about how their moms had wanted them to have kids just like them and now it had happened. It was funny and everyone was laughing.

But then the Dad said, “Seriously, what are we going to do?” He was wondering how they were going to handle this boy as he grew into an adult. The Mom put her arm around Dad and said, “Well, we just be the best parents we can be.”

I was immediately struck by what was missing. There was no God there. No power higher than themselves as they struggled through this journey of raising kids. They were relying on themselves alone.  It made me feel empty….for them.

Oh, I know it was just a television show.  But millions of parents around the world approach parenting this same way. They have no lifeline, no Helper, no power outside themselves.

I guess before seeing that little clip on TV, I had never thought about just how precious prayer is in the raising of our kids.

I mean I mess up–all the time. I am growing every day, but I still have such a long way to go. I can’t imagine approaching raising kids without a Heavenly Father to go to for comfort, for answers, and for grace.

Anything my kids are or will be is because of His grace.

We love our kids and we work so hard to raise them right. But, inevitably, we make mistakes and run into problems outside of our control.

But God is so faithful to answer prayer. Sometimes, it is not on our timetable. Sometimes, it hurts as we go through difficult days and nights of pain watching our kids make mistakes and paying the consequences of those mistakes.  But we never stop praying for them and trusting God for their spiritual growth.

Because there is a Power outside of ourselves. The world will tell you that you are the power. That you can do anything, including raising your kids. You can do it alone and without help.

Well, I am here to tell you – even if that is true (and it’s not) – I wouldn’t want to.

How thankful I am that I don’t have to. I serve a God who cares about the smallest thing. I serve a God whom I can talk to when it looks like my child is moving away from Him. I serve a God who comforts me. I serve a God who is my compass when I am utterly and totally lost. My help comes from the Lord!

Psalm 33:20 Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.

Psalm 60:11 Give us help from trouble, For the help of man is useless.

Psalm 121:1-2 I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help?  My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.
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Wednesday Wisdom: Can you have one without the other?

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Today’s post isn’t specifically about joy. However, I think these two things are so closely related that you can’t have joy without this being part of your life.

What is it? It is a heart of GRATITUDE.

In her book, Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy, Nancy Leigh DeMoss shares what she calls the Instigators of Ingratitude.  I found them so practical that I knew I had to share them with you. If we find ourselves stuck in the habit of something on this list, we can almost guarantee that we will experience very little joy.  Here it is in her words:

So much of what is wrong in our lives-out of sync, out of sorts, out of harmony- can be traced back to this root of ingratitude. So we must guard our hearts against it at every turn, watching for the telltale signs, feelings, and attitudes that can set it off in us; things such as:
 
Unrealistic Expectations. We can start to expect a lot– from life, from work, from others in general–until no matter what we’re receiving in terms of blessing, it’s never as much as we’re hoping for. Needing God but not always wanting God, we expect others to take the place of God in our lives, depending on them to guide our decisions, to love us continuously and unconditionally, to provide for us emotionally, physically, socially, totally. And when they disappoint us — which inevitably happens–rather than being grateful for God’s unchanging love and His faithfulness in meeting our needs, those unfulfilled expectations easily turn to resentment that poisons our hearts and relationships.
 
Forgetfulness. God warned the Israelites to be careful after they entered the Promised Land, not to forget the One who had rescued them from brutal slavery under the Egyptian taskmasters and had brought them into this good land. (Here she lists several verses to show her point). Forgetfulness and ingratitude go hand in hand. They forgot to thank God for His deliverance, His faithfulness, His provision, His protection, and His miracles on their behalf. 
     We must never forget that “he has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). We must remember that He has faithfully met our needs and sustained  us by His grace.
     To forget is not only to invite ingratitude but (as God told the ancient Hebrews in Deuteronomy 8:19) to “perish”– to watch a little of us die every day when we could be experiencing abundant life. 
 
Entitlement. …When we take simple blessings for granted as if they were owed to us, or conversely, when we start to think that our house, our car, our wardrobe, or our general station in  life is beneath what we deserve, ingratitude finds all the oxygen it needs to thrive. 
     One of the unseemly side-effects of all the effort and energy our society has invested in building our individual and collective self-esteem is that our culture is now rife with this super-high level of deservedness. The more affluent we are, the higher our standard of living, it seems, the more demanding and discontented we become. Be careful where you place the bar for what you can and can’t live with or without. The height of that baseline affects just about everything.
 
Comparison. This is more than just keeping score on who has what and being perturbed because we don’t have as much as they do. It is every bit as dangerous and deceptive for us to focus on the many sacrifices we’re making, the hard work we’re performing, the extra hours we’re putting in, comparing our level of labor and commitment with what others are investing. Any time our focus is on ourselves — even if it’s on the good things we’re doing–it keeps us from being grateful for what others are contributing. We lose our appreciation for our spouse, children, friends, and coworkers when we constantly view them through our own shadow. 
 
Blindness to God’s Grace. We are debtors. We are the ones who owe. The mercies of God that are “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23) are not blessings we deserve but graces given by God’s loving hand to fallen creatures, those whom He has redeemed by His good pleasure. To ignore such unmerited favor or consider it God’s obligation to us is to miss out on the vision of His loveliness and glory that will sustain us through life’s battles and keep joy flowing into and out of our heart. 
 
Ingratitude steals it all–healthy relationships, humility, contentment, enjoyment, and the sweet walk with Christ that provides our only access to abundant life. *

 
How’s that for convicting? I see several things on that list that are a daily struggle for me.  And yet, because we don’t tend to view these attitudes specifically as sin, we live in them without examination or any work at eradicating them from our life.

But ingratitude is listed with some pretty serious sins in 2 Timothy 3:2–

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

Perhaps we had better take this sin a little more seriously!  And while we work on it, we will see our joy increase as our ingratitude decreases. How cool is that?

 

*Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy, pages 53-57
 
 

The January Joy Challenge is coming!

There is so much going on this time of year! But I wanted to take just a moment to wish you a very, Merry Christmas and to thank you for taking the time to read my blog this past year!

I also wanted to share a little bit of what I have in mind for January–

This time of year you can spot the word “Joy” everywhere. I found it on ornaments, sweatshirts, lawn ornaments (didn’t have the opportunity to take that picture, however), towels, and even on a doughnut!  It’s such a great word that surfaces especially at Christmastime.

Most of us are very familiar with Luke 2. In verse 10 we find this wonderful text:  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 

Tiding of great joy for all people! Can you imagine being one of those shepherds, hearing this wonderful news?

But somehow in the midst of everyday life, in the humdrum of the daily grind, we forget about joy. Especially in January. January– at least for me– has always been a rather depressing month. My favorite seasons are over (spring, summer, and fall) and winter can no longer be camouflaged by the holiday season.

I can find myself growing a bit down and apathetic in January if I am not careful. And so, I thought I would turn our focus to this word “Joy” starting on January 1. The theme of each Wednesday Wisdom will be joy throughout the entire month and look for various challenges and quotes on the Growing 4 Life Facebook page (find the Facebook page here).

Let’s see how this word should apply to our lives every day and not just at Christmastime!

Until January, I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year!

 

Wednesday Wisdom: The Gold and Ivory Tablecloth

 

This is one of my favorite stories. You may ask, “did this really happen?” as it seems so impossible.  I have always thought that it is a true story but cannot verify that for sure. However, no matter if it is or isn’t,  I have heard many miraculous true stories and I do know that anything is possible with God.

At Christmas time men and women everywhere gather in their churches to wonder anew at the greatest miracle the world has ever known. But the story I like best to recall was not a miracle — not exactly.

It happened to a pastor who was very young. His church was very old. Once, long ago, it had flourished. Famous men had preached from its pulpit, prayed before its altar. Rich and poor alike had worshipped there and built it beautifully. Now the good days had passed from the section of town where it stood. But the pastor and his young wife believed in their run-down church. They felt that with paint, hammer, and faith they could get it in shape. Together they went to work.

But late in December a severe storm whipped through the river valley, and the worst blow fell on the little church — a huge chunk of rain-soaked plaster fell out of the inside wall just behind the altar. Sorrowfully the pastor and his wife swept away the mess, but they couldn’t hide the ragged hole.

The pastor looked at it and had to remind himself quickly, “Thy will be done!” But his wife wept, “Christmas is only two days away!”

That afternoon the dispirited couple attended the auction held for the benefit of a youth group. The auctioneer opened a box and shook out of its folds a handsome gold and ivory lace tablecloth. It was a magnificent item, nearly 15 feet long. but it, too, dated from a long vanished era. Who, today, had any use for such a thing? There were a few halfhearted bids. Then the pastor was seized with what he thought was a great idea.

He bid it in for $6.50.

He carried the cloth back to the church and tacked it up on the wall behind the altar. It completely hid the hole! And the extraordinary beauty of its shimmering handwork cast a fine, holiday glow over the chancel. It was a great triumph. Happily he went back to preparing his Christmas sermon.

Just before noon on the day of Christmas Eve, as the pastor was opening the church, he noticed a woman standing in the cold at the bus stop. “The bus won’t be here for 40 minutes!” he called, and invited her into the church to get warm.

She told him that she had come from the city that morning to be interviewed for a job as governess to the children of one of the wealthy families in town but she had been turned down. A war refugee, her English was imperfect.

The woman sat down in a pew and chafed her hands and rested. After a while she dropped her head and prayed. She looked up as the pastor began to adjust the great gold and ivory cloth across the hole. She rose suddenly and walked up the steps of the chancel. She looked at the tablecloth. The pastor smiled and started to tell her about the storm damage, but she didn’t seem to listen. She took up a fold of the cloth and rubbed it between her fingers.

“It is mine!” she said. “It is my banquet cloth!” She lifted up a corner and showed the surprised pastor that there were initials monogrammed on it. “My husband had the cloth made especially for me in Brussels! There could not be another like it.”

For the next few minutes the woman and the pastor talked excitedly together. She explained that she was Viennese; that she and her husband had opposed the Nazis and decided to leave the country. They were advised to go separately. Her husband put her on a train for Switzerland. They planned that he would join her as soon as he could arrange to ship their household goods across the border. She never saw him again. Later she heard that he had died in a concentration camp.

“I have always felt that it was my fault — to leave without him,” she said. “Perhaps these years of wandering have been my punishment!” The pastor tried to comfort her and urged her to take the cloth with her. She refused. Then she went away.

As the church began to fill on Christmas Eve, it was clear that the cloth was going to be a great success. It had been skillfully designed to look its best by candlelight.

After the service, the pastor stood at the doorway. Many people told him that the church looked beautiful. One gentle-faced middle-aged man — he was the local clock-and-watch repairman — looked rather puzzled.

“It is strange,” he said in his soft accent. “Many years ago my wife – God rest her — and I owned such a cloth. In our home in Vienna, my wife put it on the table” — and here he smiled — “only when the bishop came to dinner.”

The pastor suddenly became very excited. He told the jeweler about the woman who had been in church earlier that day. The startled jeweler clutched the pastor’s arm. “Can it be? Does she live?”

Together the two got in touch with the family who had interviewed her. Then, in the pastor’s car they started for the city. And as Christmas Day was born, this man and his wife, who had been separated through so many saddened Yule tides, were reunited.

To all who hear this story, the joyful purpose of the storm that had knocked a hole in the wall of the church was now quite clear. Of course, people said it was a miracle, but I think you will agree it was the season for it!