Eight Ways to Make This the Best Christmas Ever

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Thanksgiving is over. Guess what that means?

It means that Christmas season has officially begun for even the most reluctant merrymakers! Personally, I’ve been playing Christmas music for awhile now. I think it is terribly sad to relegate all that great music to four or five short weeks out of the whole year.

This year we only have four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas to get everything done that needs to be done. If you are like me, visions of Christmas cards and cookies and candy dance in your head. The tree is up but some decorations are still sitting in boxes waiting for their time to shine. A few gifts are already hidden and a Christmas list organizing all of the gifts you need to buy is partially put together. There may be school and church programs and office parties and family get-togethers. Amidst all of that activity is the normal stuff–basketball games, cleaning, laundry, paying bills. And it’s all squished into these four short weeks.

So how do we keep our sanity? And how do we build stronger relationships (instead of tear them down) in this stressful season? And how do we keep our eyes focused on the real meaning of Christmas? I have a few suggestions–

1. Look at your list and eliminate a few things, if necessary. This seems so simple but for some of us we feel terribly guilty for even contemplating it. I know that the first year I didn’t have a big Christmas cookie baking day, I was almost wracked with guilt. But I eventually realized that Christmas could be enjoyed whether I baked or not. I still bake a few of our very favorite kinds, but I spread it out a little and don’t designate an entire day. I can see cookie-baking day being re-instated as my kids grow up and want to start new traditions. Which leads me to number two–

2. Be flexible. While it is quite special and beneficial to have some traditions, we can’t be too over the top on carrying out every last tradition that we become annoying and frustrating to be around during the holidays. Maybe we need to go to a different tree farm–or no tree farm at all. Maybe our family get-together can’t be on Christmas Eve anymore. Life keeps changing and that means our holiday seasons keep changing, too. We can’t get too wrapped up in traditions that we grow sulky and depressed when they discontinue or change. You may not find this particular suggestion quite as necessary until you have older kids.

3. Spend a few minutes enjoying the tree lights. I know this sounds simple. But, seriously, try it. Take the occasional evening — with your spouse or your kids or by yourself– turn all of the lights off and just spend a few minutes relaxing in the quietness of the twinkling lights. It’s a great place for conversation, contemplating, and praying. Make sure the TV is off.

4. Do something really nice for someone. This can be accomplished in a myriad of ways and many of us do this already, I know. But maybe this year we can step it up a bit. We can have the kids make cards for shut-ins or perhaps even visit someone from our church that is lonely. We can visit a local soup kitchen or mission and help however we can. We can come up with really fun and creative random acts of kindness. The key here is to focus on others. It is not about stuffing money into the salvation army box or writing a check to a needy family– these are great things, don’t get me wrong– but this is about giving some of our precious time to someone else who can really use it. It’s about getting out of our little, comfortable worlds and stretching ourselves. If you do this, I can promise that you will not be sorry.

5. Develop a tradition or two just for your family. I am sure many of you already have these in place. But if you are looking for ideas, here are a few– have a gingerbread house building night (we buy kits cheap after the holidays), read an Advent story each night in December (check here for one of our favorites!), have a camp-out by the Christmas tree, bake together, have an ornament-making day, watch a classic Christmas movie (most Hallmark movies do not count here– I am thinking It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, The House Without a Christmas Tree–if you haven’t seen these you are really missing out!). The key to family traditions is that you don’t feel the need to do all of these, but you develop a few that are fun for your whole family.

6. Don’t stop your normal habits of quiet time, exercise, and eating right. Oh, this one is so key. We are not our best selves when we aren’t walking with the Lord. If we aren’t in His Word we aren’t being convicted and challenged to keep growing. When we aren’t eating right and exercising, we do not feel well and don’t have as much energy. But the catch-22 to is that it is just so hard to fit these things in during this busy season. And so we may need to change things up a bit– maybe we need to pray before we get out of bed in the morning or can only get in a few verses instead of a whole passage during this time. Perhaps we can only exercise three times a week or 20 minutes at a time. It’s still better than nothing. And we need to give ourselves a little grace to enjoy some holiday fare without becoming holidays “pigs”. There is a happy medium. Sometimes it is hard to find it.

7. Keep the TV to a minimum and read some old-fashioned Christmas stories. TV can consume hours of our time very quickly if we are not careful. Hours much better spent doing some other things. This is always a challenge for me during this season because there are so many Christmas movies that I enjoy. But there are so many wonderful Christmas stories to read. Don’t miss them! Joe Wheeler’s Christmas in My Heart series  (I think he has like 17 books of compiled Christmas stories), The Bird’s Christmas Carol, Finding Noel, and The Unfinished Gift are just a few of my favorites. Truly, you will not be sorry to turn that box off and pick up one of these wonderful stories. The Bird’s Christmas Carol and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol our two of our favorite read-alouds from the past.

8. And, most importantly, let’s keep the focus on the true reason of Christmas. Let’s minimize the Santa movies–notice that I’m not saying don’t watch them, as that is something for each of us to determine on our own. But let’s keep the focus off of Santa and his magical, “god-like” qualities and keep the focus on what we are really celebrating if we are believers. Let’s read the account of His birth in the Gospels and spend some of our time around the tree discussing this with our family. Let’s talk about why He came and the wonder and amazement of it all. If we don’t talk about it, our kids will not know. They won’t understand the depth of love we have for Jesus Christ. Christmas is a great time to focus on the gospel. For it is at this time that we celebrate God’s great plan of salvation, which began in a stable in a small town in Bethlehem. O, how easy it is to lose focus if we aren’t careful. It is also a wonderful time to share our faith. People tend to be kinder and more open at this time of the year. Let’s not be so embarrassed and ashamed to talk about our Lord with others but instead be bold and courageous!

I hope that you find these tips encouraging and inspiring! I hope that it gets you thinking about how to have the best holiday season with your family. Do you have some other suggestions? I would love to hear your ideas, so be sure to comment below! Now let’s all go have a wonderful holiday season! Starting. Right. Now!

 

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Just Believe

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This time of year, you hear (and see) the words just believe a lot. Most times it is referring to Santa Claus. But, other times, it is referring to believing in God or in angels. Or something supernatural. Something outside of normal human happenings.

Sometimes these words are followed by the words “in yourself”. Just believe in yourself. Sometimes they are followed with a Bible verse.

The key is believing. It doesn’t seem to really matter these days what you believe, as long as you believe.

The problem lies in the fact that, outside of God’s Word, whatever you believe in seems to consistently change.

Believe in myself?

One day I am strong and courageous and, the next, I am frightened and weak.

Believe in the media?

One day they say vitamins and supplements are critical to a healthy lifestyle, the next they say they cause cancer (yes, I actually just read an article that states this!)

Believe in Santa Claus?

That works until you are about six and can make sense of the fact that, no matter how many times your parents take you to see Santa Claus or how many Christmas movies show Santa weaving Christmas miracles, there is no possible way a big fat man could get down the chimney or visit all those houses on Christmas Eve.

Believe in God?

Of course we believe in God (most of us). But what does that mean? How do we know what to believe? If it is up to me to define who God is, I will make Him into someone I want Him to be. But what if that isn’t who He is? How do I know the Truth about God?

Believe in Jesus?

Which Jesus? The Jesus that the world is preaching– the non-judging, weak Jesus? The one who accepts everyone without condition–no repentance of sin necessary?

 

It is a confusing world we live in. One day we read one thing and the next we read the opposite. It makes me feel like burying my head in the sand and shouting, “I give up!” Or at least it would, if it wasn’t for one thing–

God’s Word.

For there, and only there, can we truly understand who God is and why Jesus came. Only there does the world and the direction it is going make any sense at all. Only there do we learn fully of God’s plan for His people.

Sure, there are some things that make me uncomfortable in that book. I am hit face to face with my sin there– For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.( Hebrews 4:12)

But I would rather know the truth–about myself, about God, and about the world–than live in a made-up world built of sand.

And so, as we celebrate this Christmas season, I am so very thankful to say that I know what I believe without a shadow of a doubt. I know that God’s Word is Truth, no matter what the rest of the world says. I know that the baby in the manger was born to die–to pay the price for my sins. I know that Jesus lives victorious over sin!

And that foundation is priceless, as we try to discern and process all that is going on around us–in the modern day church, in politics, in our own lives–in fact, in any and all areas.

 

p.s. If you want to truly understand just how awesome God’s Word is and how it got to us, this sermon is the most wonderful one I have heard on the subject.  It was very helpful in reminding me of the reliability and inerrancy and power of God’s Word. I wish every Christian would listen to it.

 

What We Remember

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Christmas is such a blessed time, especially if we truly understand the reason for the season. But, inevitably, as we grow older this time of year also comes with a bit of sad nostalgia as we remember favorite childhood memories and loved ones no longer with us.

Sometimes I am so caught up in the busyness of the season, I don’t really take the time to reflect on past Christmases, but this season has purposefully been a little slower paced and so I found my mind going back–

One of my favorite Christmas memories was making homemade Christmas ornaments with my mom and brother. Sometimes my grandmother, aunt, and cousins would join us. Sometimes we would make them on Thanksgiving Day. We would play Christmas music and cut and paint and glue and glitter. We would watch colorful plastic shrink in the oven until it became a quarter of its original size (anyone else remember the wonder of shrinky-dinks?) I especially remember the felt ornaments we tried one year. There was the Christmas tree with the rick-rack garland and the ornament shape with glued sequins and ribbon decorating it. I am pretty sure my mom still hangs some of these handmade ornaments each year on her tree.

I remember coloring with my brother. Every year we would buy the same matching Christmas coloring books. Its pages held a story about a girl and a boy and Santa. We would lay on the floor on the brightly-colored blue, red, green, and gold afghan my grandmother had crocheted, listening to Alvin and the Chipmunks while we colored in our coloring books with a brand new box of Crayola crayons. I always colored the girl’s hair a golden yellow.

I also remember my very favorite song called Christmas Chopsticks sang by Bobby Vinton on my very favorite Christmas album called a Very Merry Christmas. I think it was an album put out by a hardware store. Remember those? I used to play that record over and over again. Jim Nabors (i.e. Gomer Pyle) sang a song on the album in a deep bass voice. It was nothing like his Gomer Pyle voice at all.

And one of my fondest memories is spinning around in circles to Christmas music. My brother and I would try to stay on the blanket (yes, the same brightly colored afghan) and twirl and twirl until we got dizzy and we fell down. If any part of our bodies left the blanket we would be the loser. It was a made up game we loved. We did that every Christmas for years.

I remember my dad taking forever to get ready on Christmas morning. We kids would sit there in anxious anticipation, lining up our presents in the order we would want to open them. And then re-lining them up again. We would shake them and stare at them, trying to guess what was in each brightly colored package. And then we would re-line them again. After what seemed like an eternity, my dad would slowly walk down the steps, smiling. It was just part of our family’s tradition and we loved it!

And I remember my uncle Dave, pretending to be Santa and the excitement and expectation of him walking through the door– even though I knew he wasn’t really Santa. I remember family gathering, and laughing, and playing games, enjoying one another’s company. I remember mounds and mounds of yummy Pennsylvania Dutch food. We were not a gourmet family by any sense of the word and the foods that were prepared would make any healthy eater shudder, but I still, to this day, enjoy a good carbohydrate-laden holiday meal.

You know what I don’t remember?

I don’t remember any of my gifts. Oh, wait–I take that back. There was one Christmas that I wanted my own phone “real bad”. Back then, of course, that meant running wires and putting in another line. My mom thought it would be funny to put a play phone in a box and wrap it up. I still vividly remember opening that blue play phone with its rotary dial. I actually didn’t think it was that funny.

But I don’t remember many other gifts. It wasn’t that I didn’t get gifts. My mom loves Christmas and we were never disappointed (except for that phone incident!) But now I can see that the gifts weren’t really what was important about Christmas.

For Christmas is most importantly about Jesus coming to earth as a babe to save the lost. It’s about God sending His Son into this fallen, sinful world to grow up to be a man and then die on a cross for sinners. It’s about that Son rising again with victory over sin and death. Christmas is a big part of the plan of salvation, that is available to all people, through God’s grace and mercy.

But Christmastime is also about family coming together, forgetting for a brief time the cares and problems that keep us apart. Christmas is about spending time together, making memories and loving one another. I didn’t have a perfect family. My mom’s family was not perfect and neither was my dad’s. There were serious issues going on in my extended families, unbeknownst to me at the time. But I am so thankful for family members who could enjoy one another’s company for a few hours each holiday season to make beautiful memories for the child that was me. What a blessing.

As we look at our Christmas gift list for the tenth time this year, stressing over all we still have to buy, let us remember that Christmas isn’t really about the gifts under the tree, after all.

Let’s try to bring joy and hope to our family gatherings this year. Let’s not discuss topics that will start arguments. Let’s ignore the sharp tongue of that critical family member. Let’s overlook the faults of another for this short time. Let’s act and react with grace and kindness. Let’s give our families the gift of peace.

Let’s plan some fun activities — making ornaments, completing a Christmas puzzle, reading a Christmas story, watching A Christmas Carol, picking out a tree– anything that will make great memories and strengthen our family relationships. Let’s give our families the gift of happy memories.

And let’s focus on what matters. Let’s be sure our children know why we celebrate Christmas. Let’s keep Christ at the center of it all. Let’s strive to please our Lord and Savior all through the year. Let’s give our families the gift of a life lived for Jesus.

 

The Odd Thanksgiving List

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Whenever we sit down around the table at Thanksgiving and ask people to share what they are thankful for, we always hear the same {very worthy and true} answers —

Family…My Job…Nice Home…My Health…Church…Freedom to Worship

Sometimes we get frustrated if we are at the end of the circle, because all of the things we thought of have already been said. Have you ever been there?

Well, I thought maybe this morning I would list a few unusual things that we can be thankful for, in hopes that it may give us something unique to share at our Thanksgiving tables today.  Here is my Odd Thanksgiving List–

1.  Dentists and Eye Doctors. I don’t know about you but I’d probably have quite a few teeth missing if it wasn’t for my dentist! And I know that some of you would basically be blind. How blessed we are to have good dental and eye care available to us.

2.  Information About Anything at Anytime, Anywhere. I remember when I’d see a familiar face on a movie. I’d have no way to figure out where I had seen that face before. But not anymore. Now I just go to imdb.com and immediately I can glance through a list of previous works of that actor and figure it out. Or perhaps we see a strange plant or animal. Google it. Need a map? Google it. Would like more information about anyone, past or present? Google it, Ask Jeeves, Bing it, or use some other search engine. If there is a piece of information you need or just desire to know, you can probably find it online.

3.  Modern Technology. We hear a lot of negatives about technology and rightly so — in many cases it has undermined relationships and made sin much more accessible. But what great good it has accomplished, as well. We have podcasts of godly preachers at the touch of a button. Instead of being limited to our own home pastors (which may or may not be well-spoken or doctrinally sound), we now have access to whole sermon libraries of godly men, some who have already gone on to heaven. We have our Bibles and any number of Bible Study helps with us at all times on our smartphones and tablets. No need to lug around big, heavy Bibles or books. We can reach out and encourage someone with a text, facebook post, or e-mail, without the work of hand-writing a letter, finding an address, adding a stamp, and walking it to our mailboxes.  We have any number of books by great authors like Tozer, Ryle, and Spurgeon available to us for a mere 99 cents if we have a kindle. The problem for me isn’t the availability of books but the time to read them!  Technology provides some special challenges to our families, but let’s not forget that it also provides some pretty amazing advantages.

4. The Remnant of Believers. We can get so discouraged about the direction of the church, but there are still genuine believers in most areas of this country and many areas of the world. Yes, modern Christianity is murky and confusing and full of impostors but we can find sweet fellowship with true brothers and sisters in Christ almost anywhere we go and this is something for which to be truly thankful!

5.  Mentors and Godly Examples. Do you have someone who you really look to for advice? Someone who, while not perfect, is a great example of holy living? We should certainly be thankful if we have someone like this in our life.

6. Glorious Freedom. Oh, we often hear the word freedom on Thanksgiving Day, most often referring to our freedom to choose our religion or to make our own choices in the country we live in. But I am not speaking of that here. I am talking about the glorious freedom from bondage. If we are believers, we are no longer a slave to sin. Have you ever stopped to think about how marvelous that is? We have gone from darkness to light and it is glorious!

Hopefully, this list gives you something unique to present at the Thanksgiving table this year! Really, when you stop to think about it, this list could go on forever. No matter if we are rich or poor, healthy or not healthy, in a sunshiny place or in a dark place, there is so much for which to be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Heart Hints

1208355_17444325So it is February 14, the day we celebrate as Valentine’s Day.  Some of us love this holiday. Many of us hate it. Some of us just want to ignore it. But no matter how you feel about the holiday, it is always appropriate to show how much you love someone. So, I thought I would lighten up the blog today a bit and share a few “heart hints” for us to consider.

1.   Life is so short. Let’s enjoy and appreciate EVERY MINUTE we are given with the one we love. So often our focus turns instead to the things we don’t like or the stuff that is irritating. Let’s choose instead to be grateful.

2.  True love isn’t always nice. Every so often we have to tell someone we love really difficult things. Sure, we need to say it in a loving, kind way, but sometimes no matter how you wrap it, it will sound harsh. But true love tells the truth.

3.  Love is just downright hard sometimes.  And for my single readers with their (unrealistic) dreams– let me dash them right now: no one rides off into the sunset to their own personal perfect kingdom. The knight’s armor grows rusty, the horse grows old, and the castle is drafty and damp. (I’m telling you the truth because I love you, even thought I know it may sound harsh!) But can we really experience all that love can be if it’s never hard?

4.  One of the best places to be in the whole world is in the arms of the man or woman who loves you with all their heart and has proven it over and over again, in spite of your insensitivity and selfishness and big mouth and demanding requests…you fill in the rest of the sentence. Now that is the kind of love that long, happy marriages are made of. (yes, I know I just ended in a preposition, but sometimes it just is the best way to say something!)

5.  Love has to look beyond the present pain. When we are going through a bad time, I try to remember how I felt when I fell in love with my husband. Or to our future hopes and dreams. If we get locked into the present and dwell on it, we tend to grow further and further apart. It’s important to keep a broader focus than just that moment.

6.It’s never out of fashion to let someone know you love them. If you aren’t normally a Valentine’s Day gift buyer, well, switch it up this year and go buy your wife or husband a gift! It doesn’t have to be expensive, but just something to show them how much they mean to us. Most of us end up in a rut and we forget to show our spouses just how much we appreciate them.

7.  The stages of love are so exciting and such a gift from God! Young love is full of that initial excitement of wanting to be together all of the time, discovering the other person. And then, after marriage, we move into adjusting to living together and learning to give and take.  After the kids come, we fall into a routine and have to work a little harder not to take each other for granted and to keep the romance alive. And then the kids grow up and start their own lives and we get to really enjoy one another’s company again. We are comfortable with each other and  look forward to spending time together.  Each of these stages has its blessings. We need to enjoy them for what they are.

8.  It’s important to show love throughout the year with hugs and (real) kisses, holding hands, and with words of love and appreciation. This is especially important during that kid stage, when it is just so easy to lose touch with one another in the circus of busyness surrounding you.

9.  Be careful of expectations. I have made this mistake over and over again (my poor husband). I get my hopes up for a special present or date and then when it isn’t up to my expectations I feel let down. I am learning not to have such high expectations. This applies to any relationship in life, not just husband and wife (I have done the same thing for Mother’s Day).

10. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;  bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.*   Oh, to love like this! If #10 was the only heart hint on this list it would be enough.

So there are ten things to think about today. And, please  remember, I’m learning about love and marriage as I live my life, just like you, so please feel free to add your own heart hints in the comment section. I know you have learned valuable things, too, and I would love to hear them!

 

*I Corinthians 13:4-8

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!

 

There is room in my heart for…me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were singing the Christmas song Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne in church. I got distracted and wasn’t paying attention to what I was singing. We got to the last line of the song and, instead of the beautiful line “there is room in my heart for Thee”, I sang “there is room in my heart for me.”

What did I just sing? I caught it immediately and grew disgusted with myself. What Christian would ever make such a terrible blunder while singing a song about God?

Well, I am here to tell you — I would. I did.

I sang those words and then, as we went on to the next verse and then the next song, I contemplated about how true those words actually are so many times.

I am ashamed to say that oftentimes there is only room in my heart for myself.

I get so focused on what I want that I forget to leave room in my heart for Jesus and what He wants.

For example, some days I wake up and immediately start thinking of everything that needs to be done that day. I don’t see how I can possibly make time for a quiet time that morning and so I don’t have one. Ironically, I usually do end up having time at the end of my day for a quick game on my ipad or to watch something on TV — something I want. I have room for me.

Or I am short with a family member because there is something I want to do. I know that I would please the Lord by being kind and loving towards them, but I am too busy making room for me at the moment, thank you very much, so they’d better just get out of my way.

Or I am at the store and I see something that I need want and I buy it, making room for me and my desires, before ever contemplating if this is necessary or wise. Leaving no room in my heart for God and what He wants.

Or…well, you get the idea. Think of all of the times that we spend focused on ourselves–oftentimes, so much so, that we squeeze out Jesus.  There’s just so much of us that there is little room for Him.

But there is a problem.

There really is only room for one on the throne of our hearts. And we have a choice to make. Is it going to be me or is it going to be Him?

There are spiritual ramifications to even the smallest choice. Will this decision put Christ on the throne of my heart or will it put me on the throne of my heart? As we grow as a Christian, the throne room in our hearts should be filled more and more with Christ and less and less with self.

I want to sing the right words: “there is room in my heart for Thee.”  And then I want to follow up my words with a life that matches.

Thy didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown
When Thou camest to earth for me
But in Bethlehem’s home there was found no room
For Thy holy nativity
O come to my heart Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for Thee

 

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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!

Wednesday Wisdom: For the Man Who Hated Christmas

This is the second installment of short stories for December’s Wednesday Wisdom. Many of us desire a better way to celebrate this season. Something that goes beyond the commercialization and self-indulgence that is so popular. This family thought of a great way. I thought it worth presenting here. I don’t know for sure if this is a true story, although my guess is that it is. 

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 It’s just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years.

It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas. Oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it – overspending and the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma – the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.

Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was on the wrestling team at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.

As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.

Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.” Mike loved kids – all kids. He so enjoyed coaching little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came.

That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes, and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed a small, white envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done, and that this was his gift from me.

Mike’s smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year. And that same bright smile lit up succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition – one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.

The white envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children – ignoring their new toys – would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the small, white envelope never lost its allure.

The story doesn’t end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree. And the next morning, I found it was magically joined by three more. Unbeknownst to the others, each of our three children had for the first time placed a white envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing to take down that special envelope. Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit will always be with us.

 Christmas Stories: For the Man Who Hated Christmas By Nancy W. Gavin (found here)

Intentional Christmas

Thanksgiving has come and gone and that can only mean one thing–it’s time to enjoy Christmas!  But do we truly enjoy it? Or do we often end up enduring it? And if we are only enduring Christmas, how do we move from endure to enjoy?  I know lots of people have a variety of thoughts on this.  Some will tell you to just stop sending Christmas cards or to only buy three gifts for your children.  Others talk of not making cookies or of cutting down on their decorations.  But what works for someone else may not work for you. Here are five basic ways that will help anyone enjoy– rather than endure– the Christmas season.

1.  Worry most about what God thinks. Family comes second.  Co-workers, cousins, and others come a distant third. This makes a choice between a work dinner and your child’s program so much easier. It also helps to clarify when choosing between Christmas Eve service at church or a get-together with friends. Oh, I know it’s not that simple and sometimes circumstances dictate certain choices. But this principle can be a helpful starting point.

2.  Examine which traditions you enjoy most and keep doing them. Do you love to bake Christmas cookies? Or perhaps you receive tremendous joy from seeing your house lit up on a dark winter’s night? Others enjoy sending out Christmas cards and making homemade ornaments and shopping for others.  Whatever it is, choose what you love and keep doing it!  Some of you are truly energized by doing it all and there is no detriment to your family life. If that’s the case, good for you!  But if there is something that just isn’t important to you or your family–well, then consider not doing it. The world will not end if you don’t bake Christmas cookies or hang Christmas lights outside.

3.  Ignore the voices around you and mind your own business. You will hear people this time of year start complaining about how much money is spent on gifts or how many lights so-and-so put up or how much food Mrs.______ makes or –you name it–people always find things to criticize. The glorious fact is that the there are truly only a couple of opinions that matter. They are God’s and your family’s. When criticism comes your way, contemplate it for just a moment. If it makes sense, do something about it. But if it doesn’t, just ignore it. On the flip side, provide the same courtesy to others around you. If your neighbor chooses to put up the most beautiful, homemade garland around her door, don’t mutter about the waste of time but, instead, be sure to tell her how amazing it looks! And if the neighbor on the other side chooses not to put out one single decoration, then leave them to make that decision without any criticism from you.

4.  Keep the focus on Jesus. Jesus truly is the reason for the season if we are Christians. But, more and more increasingly, Jesus is not part of the world’s Christmas, where they instead turn their attention to Santa, elves, and occasionally talking animals or angels.  But we have a responsibility to keep Jesus the center of our season.  Whether we are buying gifts or making Christmas cookies or choosing what entertainment to include in our Christmas season, we must remember that we are celebrating because Jesus came to earth to provide a way for us to be saved from our sins. We, of all people, have a true and incredible reason to celebrate!

5. Don’t throw real life routine completely out the window.  We have to be careful we don’t get so busy that we stop having our devotions.  We are not at our best if we are not spending time each day with the Lord. And we need to continue to exercise and eat properly and stick to our budgets. Life doesn’t stop for a month, and if we pretend like it does, we will have consequences to pay on January 1.

So there you have it–a few simple ways to make sure that we enjoy this Christmas season, rather than endure it.  Merry Christmas!