holidays

Christmas Comes to Lupine Valley (Part 4)

It’s time for Part Four of this year’s Christmas story. If you’d like to go back and read the rest of it, you can find the first three parts here. The final installment of the story will be presented on Christmas Eve (Thursday) next week.

  The next few weeks flew by, as Christmas Day rapidly approached. Henry and Grace invited Clara to stay with them until the baby was born and she agreed that would be best. She had received a telegram from her parents, stating they would pay for her fare home when the baby was old enough to travel. With this settled, Clara was able to enjoy the holiday season as she settled comfortably into the little, pleasant cottage in Lupine Valley.
  Grace had many opportunities to share with Clara about the baby that came that first Christmas night. She explained how baby Jesus would grow up to die for the the sins of man and that, through Jesus, anyone could be forgiven of their sins and be reconciled to God. Clara didn’t say much, but she did listen. She hadn’t ever heard the story of Christmas put quite like that before and it gave her much pause for thought. Meanwhile, Henry and Grace prayed that she would come to know the Lord Jesus personally, contemplating that perhaps this was the reason for their special Christmas guest.
  Clara joined Grace in all of her many holiday activities, although she grew noticeably more tired as Christmas Day approached.
  On the day before Christmas Eve, Henry drove the two women into town to make some cookie deliveries. They had made dozens and dozens of cookies the day before and now it was time to deliver them. The festive plates of cookies, wrapped with red bows, bounced up and down as Henry carefully guided the wagon to town.
  They first stopped at the church parsonage, where Pastor was studying for his Christmas sermon.
  “Oh, Grace, what a lovely gift! Mabel wasn’t up to making cookies this year, so this is a wonderful surprise!” He said with a twinkle in his eye as he rubbed his ample belly. His wife suffered from a chronic health condition.
  Grace asked after Mabel and they spoke a few more pleasantries before heading back to the wagon. They next headed for the doctor’s office.
  Henry carefully helped Clara off the wagon here so that the Doctor could give her a quick check-up. Thankfully, he was there when they knocked on the door.
  “Well, what have we here? No baby, yet, Clara?” He laughed.
  “Not yet, Doctor Miller,” Grace’s voice reflected the fatigue she felt in every bone of her body.
  “Well, by the looks of it, I’d expect that young’un any day now!” The doctor gratefully took the large plate of cookies from Grace and then gave Clara a quick examination. Announcing that all looked well and that he expected the baby to make an appearance any day now, he sent them on their way.
  After stops to deliver cookies to the Widow Burgess, elderly Mr. and Mrs. Whitley, and several other townspeople, they finally drove the wagon to Martha’s house with the last two plates of their cookies.
  “Oh, Mom, thank you for these! I just wish I could have helped you make them this year! I didn’t even have time to make any for my own family,” Her broad smile showed that she didn’t mind too terribly much. Motherhood suited her. Martha loved to bake cookies but she loved being a mama even more. With two month old twins added to her other four, all who were under the age of eight, it was just a little too much to help this year.
  During their visit, Grace happened to look up and see Clara holding tightly on to her belly with her eyes closed. She made her way over to Henry and whispered in his ear. He nodded and announced that it was time to go.
  James and John, Martha’s two oldest boys, protested loudly, “Awwww, but you just got here, Grandpa!”
  Henry quietly leaned down and said something. The boys looked over at Clara and nodded their heads quite seriously. They understood.
  Martha told Grace that if they needed her, she could come. Jack would gladly stay with the kids in an emergency. Grace smiled gratefully and, in a flurry of good-bye hugs and kisses, they climbed in their wagon.
  Clara grew more and more uncomfortable with each bump and shake of the wagon as it made its way back to Lupine Valley. Grace tried to make her as comfortable as possible but there was little she could do.
  When they arrived home, Clara announced that she was going to go lay down.
  Grace was uncertain. Had Clara’s labor officially begun? Or was she coming down with that flu bug that was going around? Finally, she went into the room with a cup of hot tea to see if she could find out.
  “How are you feeling, dear?”
  “Awful. Just awful. I have such a back ache,” she rubbed her lower back as she spoke.
  “Are the pains coming with any regularity?”
  “No, not really.”
  “Okay. Here is some hot tea. Please call for me if you need anything,” she gave Clara’s hand a gentle squeeze.
  “Okay,” she said feebly.
  The day passed by quietly, with Grace checking on her every hour or so. The pains did start becoming more regular as the evening wore on, indicating that she was indeed in labor, so Grace shooed Henry off to bed and decided to sleep in the rocking chair. She had just dozed off when she heard a loud cry. She jumped up, trying to figure out where she was, when she suddenly remembered. Clara!
  She ran into her room to see her thrashing about on the bed in pain.
  “I think it’s soon time,” she said, gasping for breath.
  Grace ran out of the room to tell Henry to fetch the doctor. He was soon saddled up and riding towards town.
  Meanwhile, she tried to remember everything she could about a baby’s birthing. After setting a pot of water on the fire to boil and finding some clean cloths, she went and sat by Clara’s bedside to wait for the doctor.
  Thankfully, Henry was soon at the door with Doctor Miller.
  “Well, Miss Clara, are you ready to be a mama?”
  Clara smiled wanly.
  Henry waited impatiently in the main room, while Grace and the doctor aided Clara in the bedroom.
  An hour later, he heard a loud cry. Grace soon peeked her head out the door.
  “Is all well?” he asked anxiously. The girl had become like another daughter to him in just the few weeks she had been staying with them.
  Grace gave a huge smile as she affirmed that it was, “It’s a healthy baby boy. Naming him Edward Henry, after his missing father and after you, my dear.”
  Henry was shocked and delighted to hear this. What a wonderful Christmas surprise.
  As Christmas Eve dawned, the people in the cottage in Lupine Valley were a happy, exhausted bunch. There is nothing quite like a new baby at Christmastime.

 
 

The Christmas Ornaments (Part 5)

Today is the final installment of this year’s Christmas story. If you have enjoyed this short break from my normal type of post, I’d appreciate if you’d let me know. Your response helps me to decide if I should continue the Christmas Story tradition here at Growing4Life. If you’d like to read the rest of the story, you can find it here. I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

The kids were growing. Max was now a sturdy five year old and the triplets were three. Life had settled into a routine, albeit a very busy routine. Julie continued to receive the special ornaments along with the gift of a thousand dollars each December.
Each gift was welcome and needed, as money was always tight. Jack worked hard but with four kids to support, it was tough. There seemed to be an endless amount of things needing fixed in their 1970s suburban home; their minivan, with over 180,000 miles on it, was constantly in need of repair; and the kids were always growing out of their clothing. Jack’s paychecks were often spent before they had been received, despite their careful budgeting.
Although the Bible Study had ended upon the birth of the triplets, Julie had stayed in touch with Mrs. Bailey. She didn’t go many places with the four kids because it was just so much work, but knowing that Mrs. Bailey didn’t have any family to visit her, she’s take the kids over to visit the widow almost weekly to bring a little cheer into her life. The kids would create colored pictures to hang on her refrigerator and Julie would make homemade treats for her to munch on. The family brought much comfort and joy to the childless lady who lived all alone in her tiny apartment in the city.
One day, when Julie and the children stopped by to see her, a neighbor told her that Mrs. Bailey was gravely ill.
Julie dropped the kids off at Maggie’s and then headed to the hospital. When she arrived, she found her sleeping peacefully.
She slid the room chair over by her bedside and sat down. Funny how God brought people into your life that you never expected. The Baileys had been a tremendous blessing in her life. Not only had they been so warm and friendly and opened up their small home to a lonely young girl, but since Mrs. Bailey became a believer, their relationship had grown deeper and more meaningful. They had become family.
All of this came back to Julie, as she watched Mrs. Bailey’s labored breathing. She thanked the Lord for her and reached out to hold her cold hand. She stirred and her eyes fluttered open.
“Julie? Is that you, dear?”
“It is, Mrs. Bailey.”
“Thank you for coming to see me. It won’t be long now until I see Harold.”
“Oh, don’t say that quite yet.” Julie squeezed the old woman’s hand.
“It’s okay, my dear. I am ready to go, thanks to you. Harold knew the Lord and now we will be together in heaven because of Jesus. Only because of Him.” She stopped to take a few labored breaths and then continued, “thank you, my dear Julie, for sharing the truth of God’s Word with me. God was so good to bring you into my life. You are a dear girl.”
Julie gave a wry smile at her use of the word “girl”. She didn’t feel much like a girl anymore but she supposed in Mrs. Bailey’s eyes she would always be a girl.
Within a few minutes, Mrs. Bailey was sleeping peacefully again. A nurse told Julie that they didn’t expect her to live much longer and so Julie called Jack to let him know that she’d be staying with Mrs. Bailey for awhile.
She didn’t want her to die without someone who loved her by her side. It just seemed important.
A few hours later, Mrs. Bailey had breathed her last and Julie had lovingly squeezed her hand one last time, as the tears freely flowed.

_______________________

      The weeks passed by and soon it was time to take down the Christmas tree. Jack was keeping the triplets busy with a craft and Max was playing with trucks by the fireplace, giving Julie some time to reflect as she lovingly held each mysterious ornament for a moment before carefully wrapping it for next year. There was the mini-globe, the wooden cross, and a “Baby’s First Christmas”. There was the miniature woodland couple, a tiny manger scene, the porcelain triplets, a glass cottage, and a beautifully crafted miniature bell that actually rang. Each one was special in its own way.
There had been no ornament this year and, to be honest, this had filled Julie with more sadness than even not getting the expected gift of money. The ornaments were so special and not getting one had made her Christmas feel incomplete.
She always hated taking down the tree. It seemed especially hard this year, with Mrs. Bailey’s recent passing. Jack sensed her mood and brought her a cup of steaming coffee and told her to sit down for a few minutes. He rubbed her shoulders while she closed her eyes.
Suddenly, the doorbell rang. Max ran to the door and opened it to find the postman.
“I have a registered letter for your mama, young man. Is she here to sign it?”
Julie had soon signed for the letter and was sitting back on the sofa, looking at the mysterious letter.
Inside the envelope was a short note from a solicitor:

I have been instructed to send this letter to you upon the death of Mrs. Martha Bailey. I will be in touch with future instructions at a later date.

It was signed by a Mr. Brown, of Brown and Slade, a law firm from the city. She pulled out the short handwritten letter that accompanied the note.
Julie looked at the signature and saw that it was from Mrs. Bailey. She sat down on the nearby sofa to read it. Sensing that it was important, Jack took Max with him to check on the triplets so that she would have a few minutes alone to read it.

Julie smiled as she thought of dear Mrs. Bailey. So she was her secret Santa all of these years. She should have figured it out. But she was glad she hadn’t. It had made it all the more special. So no more anonymous gifts or special ornaments. Her eyes brightened with unshed tears as she remembered how their gifts had blessed her.

_______________________

      A few months later, the estate had been settled and Julie had given a third of it, about a million dollars, away to charities that she knew had the Gospel at the heart of their ministry. And then she put some of the money into savings for her children’s college education and for whatever other needs came along. She and Jack loved their home and made the decision to stay there, despite having the means to move somewhere else. They did purchase a used SUV with less miles.
But Julie kept a good portion of it to start her own secret Santa fund. And each year she’d carefully pick a special Christmas ornament and send it on its way to its owner, along with a gift of a thousand dollars.
It was in this way that Julie kept the spirit of Mrs. Bailey’s generosity alive.

Because We Just Don’t Know

We had our company breakfast at a local restaurant the other day. We usually do a fun get-to-know-you game and this year was no exception. One of the questions asked in this game was: What is your favorite thing about Christmas? Everyone’s answer seemed to have the same theme–

FAMILY

Each one, without exception, loves getting together with family.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Life is so fragile. It hangs on a fine string that can break at any time. While life and death are never outside of God’s sovereignty, we all experience things that remind us that– at any time– someone can be taken from us.

Each Christmas spent with those we love is a tremendous blessing. Each springtime, each Fourth of July, each Thanksgiving, each ordinary day we spend with family and friends are true blessings.

So what’s my point?

First, I think we sometimes take these things for granted. Let us not neglect to thank the Lord for His grace and mercy in allowing us to be together as we celebrate His birth.

Second, if we remember how fragile life is it might give us more love and grace for one another. It’s easy to be easily irritated or annoyed by someone who isn’t like us or who grates on our nerves. But if we remember what life would be like if they weren’t there, it reminds us of how important it is to redeem each moment we have with them.

Third, let’s ask those we love about their lives, their interests, their histories, and how they came to know the Lord. There is so much I wish I would have asked my Grandma but she died before I was given the opportunity. We spend so much time talking about things that don’t matter. Perhaps we could think of a few questions to ask others this holiday season that dig a little deeper than “how’s the weather?” It is through conversations like these that we can grow to understand and appreciate one another.

And, fourth–and most importantly–we should share the Gospel and point people to the Lord and His Word as often as we are given opportunity. We don’t want to be the one who is eternally sorry because, too afraid or too worried about what other people thought, we chose not to speak up and share the Truth with someone who isn’t with us next year.

Life is constantly changing. Some changes are exciting and fun.

And some are not.

So let’s not take even a moment for granted this holiday season. Let’s love one another and encourage one another and have meaningful conversations about God, His Word, and the Gospel. Because we just don’t know know what next year–or even tomorrow–holds.

 

P.S. I will post the final installment of this year’s story (Mending Fences) tomorrow and then I will be taking off from writing for a few weeks because I will be hanging with my family during the holidays and I want to focus on them as much as possible! Happy Christmas to you!

 

Mending Fences (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of this year’s Christmas story. You know, we can find forgiveness from God for the most horrible of sins, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still deal with the consequences. One of the most devastating consequences of sin are destroyed families. And they are all around us. Join me today as we continue the story of two sisters who are struggling through this very thing. (If you have landed on this story for the first time today, you can find Parts 1 & 2 here.)

      “Good morning, Mom! Didn’t you ever go to bed?” Greta said brightly, waking me up with her words.
      I groggily looked around me and realized that I was still on the sofa where I had relived those awful years over again in my mind the night before. I smiled at that baby girl, who was now so grown up.
      “Good morning, sweetheart. What’s on your schedule today?”
      “I have two classes and then I will be at work for the dinner shift. I’ll just study at the library in between classes today.” Greta was in her second year at the community college nearby and also worked at a local restaurant.
      “Hope you have a wonderful day!” I gave her a big hug as I raised myself out of the comfortable corner of the couch that had been my bed the night before.
      “You, too, Mom. What are you doing today?”
      “That’s a good question,” I laughed. I had off work today and I was still thinking through what I wanted to get done.
      Greta headed out the door and I walked to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. Still in my clothing from last night and looking rather rumpled, I looked rather like a vagabond.
      After breakfast and a shower, I decided I’d go see my mom. She lived in an assisted living community nearby. She had never really recovered after Dad died 15 years ago. She had never been that strong and his sudden death from a heart attack had left her heartbroken and in a weakened physical state. About eight years ago now, I had arranged for her to go to Good Shepherd Assisted Living.
      It was around that same time that I started attending Trinity Bible Church, located a couple of blocks from where we lived. I am not sure what drove me to go to church on that particular Sunday but I knew I needed something to help me with the horrible guilt I had lived with since that fateful night. It had weighed me down like a million pound rock!
      It was through Pastor Jack and his wife, Patty, that I would find out about God’s forgiveness. They opened the Bible and showed me from its pages how Jesus had died for me and that no matter what sin I had committed, forgiveness was available for me. It had taken me several months to actually believe that I could be forgiven for something so awful. But when I finally repented and surrendered my life to Jesus that million pound rock rolled right off my shoulders! I hadn’t even realized how heavy it was until it was gone.
      Greta was saved just a few months after I was and then Mom shortly after that. All three of us had been going to TBC ever since and, within a year, that small church on the corner was like the extended family we never had. It was there that we grew in our faith through the expository preaching of the Word and the discipleship of those who were more mature in the faith. I thanked God most every day for His kindness in leading me to that truth-teaching church and showing me the way to salvation.
      Since coming to know the Lord, the one thing that had really been on my mind was my sister. A few years after I was saved, I read Romans and came across this small, powerful verse towards the end of chapter 12: If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. And I found myself wondering if I had done everything possible to be at peace with my sister?
      This time of year was especially hard. October was when we’d have so much fun preparing for the holidays in Dad’s store. Every year I thought about reaching out to her and every year I chickened out. I just knew she would reject me again and I wasn’t sure I could bear it.
      California had treated her well. She had a great job and had ended up marrying a guy named Mark. They had had three kids. Two boys and a girl. I only knew this because she communicated occasionally with Mom. But poor Mom had never even met her grandkids. Their happy faces were in frames on the wall of her small apartment but she had never heard their voices or put her arms around them.
      I felt responsible for this, too. Evie was still so angry with me that she hadn’t even brought her kids to meet their Grandma. Oh, the burden was so hard to bear. The Lord, in His awesome grace and mercy, had taken away the guilt and the shame, but I still lived with the pain and the devastating consequences. They would always be with me, I imagined. The only good to come from that awful time was Greta. Oh, how I thanked the Lord for my precious daughter. She was the one and only bright spot in the whole affair.
      What if you would just try just one last time to reach out to Evie?
      The thought came unbidden and totally unexpectedly. Could I risk it? But what was I even risking? She couldn’t reject me any more than she already had. Surely, it would be worth at least trying—if not just for Mom’s sake.
      Yes. I would try.
      “But it won’t work,” my mind insisted.
      The memory of the last time I had tried to apologize came rushing back. It was shortly before Dad had died. I had called her for the third and final time in my efforts to make things right. But before I could even get one sentence out she had firmly said in a stone-cold voice that she would never, ever forgive me and to never call her again.
      I never had.
      But that was fifteen years ago now. Since that time, she had gotten married and had three kids. Would she see things a little differently now? Since Bryce had been born she called Mom a lot more often. Maybe she was changing, too. Like I was.
      I decided to sit down and write her a letter before I lost my courage. I called Mom and told her I’d be a little later than I had planned and then sat down to write. I read and re-read the letter. I erased and re-wrote. I crumpled the first and then the second and third drafts in my hand and threw them in the trash. But, finally, I had penned this letter–

Dear Evie—

I have been wanting to write this letter for such a long time now. Nineteen years ago I sinned against you in a way that is truly unforgivable.

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have wished that I could go back and change what happened. But, to my great sorrow, I can’t. I can’t fix it. I can’t change it. I can’t undo it.

But I want to ask you just one last time to forgive me. I beg you to forgive me for betraying you. I sinned against you in one of the worst ways possible and I have regretted it every single day since. But I love you, Evie. I always have and I always will. It would be my greatest desire to be sisters again.

Love,
Your sister, Eliza

      I sucked in my breath as the tears rolled down my face. One of them dropped on the letter, smearing the E in my name. Should I write it again? I sighed and realized that I didn’t have the emotional energy to write it again. I shrugged my shoulders and folded up the letter. I stuck it in an envelope and then popped it into my purse. I needed to get her current address from Mom.
      I didn’t even have my sister’s address. Oh, what a sad and sorry state of affairs. But with God’s help, perhaps we could start rebuilding this family. And maybe it would start with my letter.

 

 

Mending Fences (Part 2)

This is Part 2 in this year’s Christmas Story. Sometimes life throws curve balls at us. And sometimes those curve balls are caused by our own choices. Are we resigned to live with the consequences of our sins? Well, to a certain extent the answer may be yes. But we serve a great God who can heal even the most broken of relationships. This is the theme of this year’s story. (Find Part 1 here)

      As I sat on the sofa, my mind went back to that first time I saw Rick. Evie’s best friend, Monica, had introduced her to Rick at a football game and it didn’t take them long to become inseparable. After just a few weeks she asked if she could bring him around for dinner. Mom had prepared her delicious roast beef and made-from-scratch mashed potatoes in Rick’s honor. For dessert, she had made a chocolate cake with a thick coating of peanut butter icing. Isn’t it funny what you remember about certain moments?
      Evie was 23 and had just settled into a good accounting job upon her graduation from the local university the preceding May. And she was ready to get married. It didn’t take her more than a few weeks of dating to believe that Rick was her future husband.
      I was 21 and working at Dad’s store while I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Dad and I got along well and it seemed like the perfect fit for the time being.
      Our whole family loved Rick from the very beginning. He was laid back and funny and had twinkling blue eyes that lit up when he talked to you. By the end of the evening, my dad had offered him a job at the store and I…well…I had fallen hopelessly in love.
      For the next year, I put on a pretty good act. No one knew I was head over heels in love with my sister’s handsome boyfriend. Well, Mom might have figured it out but if she did she didn’t say anything.
      But working together at the store had given us a special, albeit platonic, relationship. We had a lot of fun together. He teased me and I teased back. I think he enjoyed my lightheartedness and love for fun in comparison to my very serious-minded sister.
      One day, my sister came home with a ring on her finger. How it is possible to be so happy and so heartbroken at the same time is truly a mystery, but as both emotions washed over me, I told myself that I must move on. Rick was Evie’s. He would never be mine. I must resign myself to that.
      My mom caught my eye as I hugged Evie tightly and wished her the best. It was then that I realized that Mom most certainly did realize how I felt about Rick. I gave her a wry smile and went to my room.
A little later she came to talk to me. She told me she knew this was hard for me, but that I must be more careful with Rick now that he was engaged. She realized he treated me like a little sister, but I must be careful not to show my true feelings. For Evie’s sake and for Rick’s.
      I told Mom I understood and she left. And I really did understand. Of course, I didn’t plan for anything to happen between Rick and me. What loving sister ever would? I knew what was right. But, of course, one rarely does plan for these types of things.
      One night, a few weeks after my conversation with Mom I found myself in an undesirable situation. Christmas was always a busy time but this particular year it was extra busy because Dad was opening a second store in a nearby town. This demanded a lot of Dad’s time and so I was left to run the store many times on my own. Thankfully, it was always with one of the local high school kids that helped us out, as Dad had Rick at the new store more often than not. I found this a huge relief and honestly believed that my feelings were waning and I was ready to move on with life. But then, just a week before Christmas, came that one unexpected and dreaded night. Dad, completely unaware of my feelings, left Rick and me alone at the store.
      As we were closing for the night, we ended up in the back store room together. I had tried so hard to avoid this moment, always being so careful to not be alone with my sister’s fiancé. But when the moment finally presented itself, I caved. I am ashamed to admit it, but all of those feelings hid deep inside rushed to the surface and I caved.
      I am pretty sure Rick didn’t mean for it to happen, either. Although I have always wondered about that. I guess I’ll never know.
      My face grew hot as I remembered the rest of that night. What had I been thinking? My parents were very moral people. We didn’t go to church but I was raised right. I definitely knew the difference between right and wrong and that this was so wrong. How in the world could I have sacrificed the friendship of my sister and destroyed my family for a few stolen moments? I realized the sheer stupidity and blatant immorality of it all immediately afterwards.
      But it was too late. Within a year, life had utterly and completely changed forever: Evie had sworn she would never forgive me and moved away to California. Rick disappeared from the scene altogether and none of us ever saw him again. And I was a single mom to a baby girl who looked an awful lot like Rick. I named her Greta.
      
      

Mending Fences (Part 1)

During the holiday season, I like to step away from my normal type of post once each week and share one part of a 5-part Christmas Story that I have written. It stretches my brain to write in this different way and hopefully provides you with not only a little escape from the busyness of the season but also challenges you in your own walk with the Lord as you reflect on the story. And, so, with that brief introduction, I present to you this year’s story, which is called Mending Fences

      I don’t know when it happened but I couldn’t remember what she looked like. Not that it mattered. She probably had changed, anyway. And it wasn’t like I was going to see her anytime soon. But it still filled me with sorrow that I couldn’t remember her face.
      I sat on my front porch, deep in reflection. The smell of autumn was in the air and a cool wind had forced me to don a light sweater. This time of year always made me nostalgic. It brought memories of school days, football games, and the much-anticipated preparation for the holiday season at Dad’s store.
      My thoughts turned back to my sister. I squinted my eyes as I tried to recollect her features. I remembered that she had straight brown hair. And greenish eyes hidden by rather thick glasses. But the rest just disappeared into the vague recesses of my memory.
      How could I have forgotten what my sister looks like? The thought startled and scared me at the same time. A part of my past was escaping my memory and it deeply saddened me.
      I went back into the house and climbed the stairs to the attic. I turned on the light and started making my way through the collection of boxes kept there. There was a photo album from my past somewhere in all of those relics. I finally spotted the gray container that held all my old albums. I found the frayed, green photo album I was looking for as soon as I opened the container.
      I sat down on a box and started paging through it. Ahh, there she was. My beautiful, green-eyed sister with the tortoise shell glasses and thick brown hair that fell just a little below her shoulders. The perfect nose and high cheek bones gave her a special type of beauty that I had not inherited.
      I wondered if she still wore her hair like this? Did she still wear glasses or did she have contacts now? It had been fifteen years since we had laid eyes on each other. Could it have really been that long?
      It was with great regret that I remembered that we hadn’t even talked to each other that last time. The awkwardness of Daddy’s funeral came back in a rush. The great efforts we both made to try and avoid one another. The rapid heartbeat and eyes on the ground if she got too near. The lack of desire to even speak to her. Her lack of interest in Greta, her only niece. I could remember it all like it was yesterday.
      But one does a lot of growing up in fifteen years. And now I found myself wishing I had done a lot of things differently. If onlys plagued me.
      If I had to do over, I would change things. I really would. But I recognized the futility of that thought.
      “Mom?” Greta stirred me out of my reverie.
      “Up here, honey! I’ll be right down!”
      Sighing, I placed the photo album back into the box and placed the lid on top. A few hours later, our Friday pizza and movie night was over and Greta was sleeping soundly in her room. As I sat on the sofa in the family room, my mind went back to the past.
      Life has a way of stealing our happy endings. And so it was with me. But maybe I had short-changed myself. I was simply reaping what I had sown. Perhaps I should start at the beginning. That would help all of this make more sense to you.

      Once upon a time (don’t all stories begin this way?) there were two sisters. Evie, the firstborn, was shy and quiet. Her younger sister, Eliza, was boisterous and outgoing. But the two were inseparable from the very beginning.

      Doesn’t that sound nice? Just like a lovely story you might read in an actual book.

      Except that the lovely story ended up not so lovely. I’m Eliza. The younger sister by only 15 months. And Evie and I were best friends. Together we navigated playgrounds, middle school, and teen-aged angst. Together we weathered broken friendships, boyfriend break-ups, and frustrations with Mom and Dad.
      Memories started flooding my mind as I recalled those days. Like the time when Marcy, my best school friend of several years, just decided one day that she liked Lauren better than she liked me. From that time on, I watched the two girls eat lunch side-by-side, climb the monkey bars at recess, and sit beside each other at every opportunity—all while I sat alone and uninvited to their circle. Oh, how I had cried. It was Evie who comforted me. Evie who wrapped her small arms around me so tightly and said, “now, don’t you worry! We love you and family is what matters.”
      I felt my eyes start to burn. Oh, the turns that life takes. I wondered what would have happened if Rick had never set foot in dad’s store? How would our lives have been different?
 
 

Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Peace This Holiday Season

Good morning! It is the Monday before Thanksgiving. As I thought about this holiday, I wondered how I could encourage a thankful heart in a new and different way that improves upon all that is out there. I decided I can’t so I am going to go a little different direction. But first, I wanted to take a few moments today to let you know of a few upcoming things here at Growing4Life–

First, the Growing4Life 2018 Christmas story is coming! Starting this Friday, I will share one part for the next five Fridays. The final part and ending will be posted on Friday, December 21. This year’s story is called Mending Fences and is about two sisters and how forgiveness changes everything. I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Second, I have decided on the Growing4Life 2019 Bible Reading Challenge. (Can you believe it’s going to be 2019?? Where does the time go?) For next year’s challenge, we will be doing a chronological Bible read through. I did this 4 years ago for my 2015 Challenge. I have decided to do it again, because I think it it vital for every Christian to read through the Bible at least once. Reading through the Bible gives fundamental understanding and insight into God’s plan and story that one just cannot get in any other way.

Providing the G4L Challenge and an accompanying Facebook group where we can share and discuss what we are reading is my way to help and support my readers in this endeavor for anyone who desires to do this. I hope to get the details out for the new challenge within the next week or two. I do hope that many of you will join me!

I honestly don’t really know how many of you out there actually even read my posts (especially you, my subscribers, as emails just land in boxes and probably mostly go unread) but it continues to be my hope to be an encouragement for believers to walk with God in submission and obedience and to be a light that points people to the Word of God as their authority and guide in a culture that’s growing increasingly darker. I hope that both this year’s Christmas story and the 2019 Bible Reading Challenge will do just this.

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Now, for a few thoughts that may be a little different this Thanksgiving. Holidays can be a bit rough on many of us. Unsaved or deceived family members and friends can challenge or discourage us at gatherings. They can keep us from enjoying ourselves and we let them mess with our peace.

I was struggling with something the other day. Someone had responded unkindly to me and my dad shared with me something my Grandpa used to say. It was something like this–

Don’t let someone else and their problems steal your peace.

Have you ever thought how often we have done this? At least, I have. Someone is mean or angry with me and that affects my mood. Next thing you know I am short with my husband or someone else close to me.

It reminds me of a time a lady called us on Christmas Day because we hadn’t plowed her driveway yet. She was a widow with nowhere to go and she was angry because we hadn’t been there yet. As my heart grew defensive within me and I wanted to start yelling at her, I remembered something: Her husband had just died. She was lonely and hurting and this was her response. So many people get angry in response to deep hurts.

We need to remember that–

People always do what they do for a reason.

As believers, let’s show extra grace. They may be hurting. Or they may be caught up and deceived by a wrong philosophy. Whatever it may be, our response, as believers, is to have lots of grace and mercy, just as God has for us. Let us love even the unlovable because God loves us. For remember, God loved us when we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8).

Another thing to consider is this: If you have your mind set in a certain direction, what will be most likely to change it? Harsh, angry, words of debate and argument or kind, thoughtful words that encourage respectful discussion?

We live in a world that is increasingly divided. Whether it’s politics, personal rights, or false teachers, there are a million opinions out there. But the only opinion that matters is God’s. What does the Bible say? But, even as we try to share what scripture says, may we be respectful, kind, and loving. As God gives us opportunities, let us not grow angry or insistent. Only God can change a heart. That is not our responsibility.

So as we meet together with friends and family that may have differing opinions, let’s love them. Let us have unending grace. And let’s point them to scripture if and when the “hot” topics come up. Let us not allow anyone to make us frustrated or angry. Or to steal our peace. Let’s not give them that power. I do know that this feels almost impossible but the truth is that it is our choice.

And then, at the end of the day, when we have made the right choice, we can walk away in peace, knowing we have done the right thing, no matter what their response.

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I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving! I am so thankful for all of you, but particularly those of you that have taken your precious time to share that you appreciate what I do here at Growing4Life. Blogging about discernment and living a holy life in these difficult days is a rather lonely and discouraging thing and those of you that have encouraged me have been used by God to keep me going. God’s timing on your notes, emails, and Facebook messages has been incredible and I always marvel at this. So thank you. Thank you for reading. Thank you for encouraging. And thank you for being part of the Growing4Life family of believers. Let us continue to stir one another up to love and good deeds as we march forth as soldiers of the Cross!

 

 

 

The Ghost of Christmas Past

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Yes, this is a totally unscheduled post. But I thought there might be a few of you out there who might be encouraged by this. Once in a great while I get inspired to write a little poetry. I certainly don’t claim to be a poet, but sometimes these things will just come to me and need to be written down. This year a song about Christmas Past stirred my heart. As you know, this has been quite a year of transition for me. I feel things deeply and so change comes hard for me. But as I have been processing my feelings about my new kind of Christmas (so quiet with just one college student who likes to sleep in on Christmas morning) I have realized that if we aren’t careful we can allow our thoughts about Christmas Past to cast a shadow on Christmas Present. And so this poem is for any of you who have had this same struggle with change–any type of change. While this is based on my own experience, I hope that it will turn your thoughts to your own Christmas Present and all that is good there. That it will encourage you to be present in Christmas Present with its joys and blessings. Because, all too soon, this Christmas Present will be Christmas Past.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

I hear the sounds of Christmas past
A giggle, a laugh, pure glee
And in my mind’s eye, I see them
The children around the tree

How can it be that time has flown
So quickly by for me
Sadness fills my heart sometimes
When the past is all I see

The Ghost of Christmas Past has come
And heartache comes with it
The children are all grown now
And life has changed quite a bit

But then a little voice I hear
And the past begins to blur
The present calls to me
And wakes me with a stir

I see him, this little grandchild
He is my Christmas Present
He calls me from my doldrums
Reminding me of all that’s pleasant

This little man will soon be grown
Christmas Future calls to him
But right now, here today
Our joy it will not dim

So I will enjoy Christmas Present by being present
In the here and now
Loving and rejoicing with those around me
Joy and peace upon my brow

 

Meeting Ella (Part 5)

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This is the final part of this year’s Christmas story. I hope that you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it! I have included some author notes below, so hopefully you will take time to read them, as well. Merry Christmas!

PART 5

      The next morning, I was awakened by the little patter of feet. I lifted my head and saw Ella enter my room, carrying the Christmas storybook. Charlie lifted his head and wagged his tail against the comforter. (Against my better judgment, he had ended up on my bed last night. I just couldn’t resist those big brown eyes!)
      I had slept so much better than the night before but I wasn’t quite ready to get out of bed so I patted the spot beside me and told her to climb up next to me. She was soon snuggled in between Charlie and me, paging quietly through the book. I tried to close my eyes again, but the strangeness of having a little girl beside me kept me from sleep. In only a moment, I opened my eyes and sat up.
      “Are you hungry?” I asked.
      “Yes! Can you make pancakes?” She hopped out of bed with enthusiasm and started out the door, Charlie following close on her heels.
      I followed after her, trying to reconcile this bright, talkative girl with the somber, quiet one from last night. She obviously had started to feel comfortable around me.
      Suddenly, I realized that it was Christmas Eve. With everything going on, I had completely lost track of the days. I tried to think of a course of action for Ella. The first thing I knew I had to do was to find out if her mother was still alive, no matter what day it was.
      I made some pancakes and we ate them amidst her happy chatter. After breakfast, I sent Ella up to get dressed. Meanwhile, I pulled out my laptop and tried to locate Melanie. Ella had told me that her last name was Erikson. Putting “Melanie Erikson” into the Google search box, I found a home address as well as a short article about a charity project she was part of at a Baptist church in her town. I called the church, not really expecting an answer because of the holiday but was pleasantly surprised when the pastor picked up with a warm greeting. As I explained to him what had happened, he listened quietly and then told me that Melanie was in a local hospice facility and didn’t have very long to live. And then he said sadly that when he had stopped by to visit Melanie yesterday, she was in terrible sorrow over not knowing if Ella was ok. She was heartbroken over not being able to say one final good-bye. He was amazed that I was calling so shortly after he had had this conversation with her, as he had been praying just this morning about finding Ella for Melanie.
      I knew what I had to do. I thanked him for the information and turned to Ella, who was now dressed and quietly playing on the floor with Charlie.
      The living room, with the twinkling tree lights and the cozy fire, set a nice atmosphere for us to talk about her mom. Ella, her arm around Charlie, listened intently as I explained that her mother was growing sicker every day but that she had changed her mind and really longed to say good-bye to her. Could she be brave and strong?
      Ella’s face grew pale but she sat up a little straighter and her eyes brightened at the prospect of seeing her mother, “When do we go? And what happens after that? Can I stay here with you?”
      I knew that question was going to come and I had thought of little else since I had found Ella the evening before. I had decided that if Ella wanted to stay with me and if her mother was in agreement, I would offer her a home with me here at the farm house. This was a big part of my reason for finding Melanie. I knew that Ella would be thrown into the state foster system if I couldn’t get some kind of signed, legal document from her mother.
      “Ella, would you like to stay here and live with me at the farm house?”
      “Oh, yes! Please!” Only three little words, but the passion in her little heart glistened through her amazing blue eyes.
      “Okay, then. I would love to have you here with me. Let’s see if we can make that happen,” I smiled at her as the ramifications of what I had just said filled my head. Instant motherhood. Was I really ready for this? But I knew I had to take care of this dear little cousin of mine. She had no one else in the world. And then it dawned on me—neither did I. We were perfectly suited for one another.
      I put Charlie in his crate and we started out. Ella was mostly quiet on the drive, probably thinking about her mother. In a little over an hour, we were pulling into the parking lot that stood in front of a pretty stone building with wreaths in the windows.
      A kind lady directed us to Melanie’s room and we were soon at her door. I took a deep breath and knocked.
      “Melanie? Are you up for visitors?” I hesitantly pushed the door open.
      I am not sure what I was expecting but it wasn’t this shell of a woman who looked like she weighed less than 90 pounds.
      I could see the question in her eyes and then she saw Ella. Her eyes, dull and lifeless a second before, suddenly lit up the whole room.
      “Ella? Is that my baby? Am I dreaming?”
      Ella walked over to her mom and leaned over to gently kiss her.
      “No, Melanie, you aren’t dreaming. Ella is here to say good-bye.”
      “Oh, my baby, my baby,” Melanie moaned, “I can’t believe you are here. I didn’t want you to see me like this, but I am so glad you are here.”
      I quietly moved back to a dark corner of the room to let them have a few moments alone.
      They talked in low tones for a while and then I heard Melanie, with a desperate note in her voice, ask, “Ella, are you okay?”
      “Yes, mom, I am fine. Libby is taking good care of me.” I was so glad that she didn’t expand on all she had been through.
      “Who is Libby? Where is your grandmother?” The question was expected and I stepped up to explain.
      “Melanie, I am Libby,” I introduced myself and then continued, “I am Ella’s cousin. Gus was my mom’s brother and my uncle. Our grandmother died a few months ago and, of course, you didn’t know that. But no need to worry, I can care for Ella. Would that be okay?”
      I recognized even as I spoke what a vulnerable place Melanie was in. She didn’t know me at all. She didn’t know if I was telling the truth. She was literally putting her daughter in the hands of a stranger. And she didn’t have the strength or the resources to even check my story. With this in mind, I gently held Melanie’s hand and looked her in the eye.
      “Melanie, I promise to love Ella as my own. I know you don’t know me but I want to assure you that you can trust me. I will care for her.”
      I saw two tears make a path down Melanie’s cheek and then she breathed out words I wasn’t expecting.
      “I have regretted my decision to drop off Ella every minute since I left her. I knew her grandmother would take care of her–I had no doubts about that—but I should have stayed. I should have asked. I wasn’t thinking. I was scared. I couldn’t think beyond the pain and desperation.”
      “It’s okay. You don’t have to explain,” I could see how difficult this was for her, both physically and emotionally. Every word seemed laborious. But she continued.
      “No, let me finish. Now, as I approach the end, I mostly sleep. But any moment I am awake, I have prayed, begging the Lord to assure me that my baby will be okay. You are the answer to that prayer. I am sure of it. I know that God has sent you here with Ella as an answer to my prayer. And I am so grateful.”
      Right at that moment, I was in awe over God’s sovereign plan for all of us. I knew God would work out every detail somehow. But I also knew that I had something that had to be done.
      “Melanie, do you feel well enough to sign a letter that would give me custody of Ella?”
      “Yes, yes, of course, it must be done,” she struggled to sit up.
      “No, no, not yet. I am going to go call a friend of mine. Ella will stay here with you and visit. I’ll be back.”
      I went out to the nurses station and asked for paper and a pen and then lost no time in calling Kate.       Mrs. Miller had only said that Kate was in grad school, but Kate told me yesterday that she was actually in law school. She had laughingly said her Grandma could never remember that. I knew she could help me.
      Soon I had a letter drafted that would hopefully hold up in court. Melanie gladly signed it and, with tears streaming down her face, said her final good-bye to Ella. I offered to bring Ella back for another visit but she lifted a weak hand in protest and said, “I won’t be here much longer now. I’m going home soon.”
      As we prepared to leave, she reached for my hand and said the words I will never forget, “Thank you, Libby, for taking care of my little girl. Please teach her to love Jesus with all of her heart.” And then she dropped her hand, exhausted, and closed her eyes. I could see she was spent. We probably had stayed too long. We were all crying but Ella was sobbing almost uncontrollably. I put my arm around her as we slowly walked away. I am not sure I have ever done anything so hard as leave that room.
      I asked a nurse to check on Melanie as we left, letting them know that she may be upset. The nurse smiled and told us that we were the best medicine she could have ever had. Apparently the nursing staff knew her story and had been praying, as well, for a miracle. One nurse had even started a search for Ella and had planned a trip to our town tomorrow in order to find her.
      It was pretty amazing to be part of a miracle.

      A few hours later, Ella and I were sitting alongside the Millers in a church pew. I think we both were overwhelmed at the changes in our lives over the past few days. There was so much to take in. Both mourning and joy were part of what we were feeling. All that we had lost was competing with the newfound joy of having found each other. What a Christmas! As the congregation started to sing “Joy to the World”, I grabbed Ella’s hand and squeezed it. She looked at me with a bright smile and I knew we would both be okay. We had both found a family this Christmas. An unexpected little family that we both had needed so desperately. God had taken such special care of both of us and I knew He would continue to do so. I moved my thoughts back to the service and joined the singing with gusto. Joy to the world, the Lord is Come!

 

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Author Notes:  I started this story without knowing the ending. I spent what felt like hours trying to come up with a plausible plot. Finally, one day, I shared my dilemma with my mom and she helped me sort through it all. I want to publicly thank my mom for her help!

Also, I want to talk a bit about the spiritual lessons of this story. In some ways, I struggled because I know that in real life, the knots and bumps of our own stories don’t always work out so neatly. Sometimes–ofttimes–there is no happy ending. But, on the other hand, sometimes we watch God work things out in ways that are far beyond anything we could have ever dreamed. It was my hope to remind you that we serve a big God and He does sometimes work things out in amazing ways. But, more importantly, I wanted to remind you of two things–

1. We were lost and alone, without hope, and God made a way for us to be reconciled to Him. Like Libby giving Ella a home, God took in the poor orphan (me!) and gave me a home–a citizenship in heaven. I found safety, security, and rest in Him. If you aren’t saved, I hope that this story may be used to encourage you to read the Bible and find out more about the God who loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you so that you, too, might know that you are eternally safe and secure in God’s sovereign hands.

2. And I hope that this story encourages you to open your heart to whomever God puts in your path. There are so many lost and lonely people in this world. Let’s be encouragers! Sometimes that means giving them a home for a few months and sometimes that just means giving them a warm smile. But let’s open our eyes and intentionally reach out to the lost and lonely this year. They are everywhere, waiting to be noticed.

Thank you so much for reading this story. I hope that it was a joy to you this Christmas. Enjoy the holidays!

p.s. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments about this year’s story! Comment below or email me at leslie {at} growing4life {dot} net.

This Little Light of Mine

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Do you remember singing “This Little Light of Mine” as a child? Perhaps you still sing it with your own kids or grandkids. I love watching toddlers sing this song. Seeing them hold their chubby little finger up and blow on it during the verse “Don’t let Satan blow it out” is a delightful thing to watch.

But have you ever thought just how profound the words are in this children’s song?

This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine

Hide it under a bushel? No!
I’m going to let it shine

Don’t let Satan blow it out
I’m going to let it shine

Shine it all over {your town}
I’m going to let it shine

Let it shine ’til Jesus comes
I’m going to let it shine

Even though this song is simple, it shares a message that we should all heed, no matter how old we are.  John MacArthur says this–

In 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul says God who first ordered the light to shine in the darkness has flooded our hearts with His light. We can now enlighten men by giving them the knowledge of God’s glory that comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are lights. We are children of light. *

There are several scripture passages that refer to believers as light. We see that Jesus tells us we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14) and that Paul and Barnabas were called to be a light for the Gentiles (Acts 13:47). In Romans 13:14 we read that we are to put on our armor of light. Paul tells us to walk as children of light in Ephesians 5:8. There are more.

We are children of light.

So what does this mean, practically speaking?

If we look at the song verses individually, we can gain some insight–

1. This little light of mine. First we must recognize that we are just a little light. In actuality, we are just a reflection of God’s much greater light. We must stay humble and remember that God doesn’t need me or you to accomplish His purposes. We are not the origin of the light. We can do nothing without Him.

2. Hide it under a bushel? No! A hidden light is a useless light. If we aren’t willing to stand for Jesus Christ and His Word, we become ineffective as a witness for God. When we hide our lights, we meld in with the world and make no eternal difference at all in the lives of others.

3. Don’t let Satan blow it out. Satan would like nothing better than to render you ineffective for God’s Kingdom. Once saved, we are eternally saved. But He can–and does–do things that keep us tied up and fruitless. Some of the things that come to mind are distracting us with worldly things, deceiving us with false doctrine, convincing us that busyness is the same as holiness, encouraging us to be fearful and anxious… and so many more. Satan has many different tactics he uses to keep a Christian from furthering God’s Kingdom.

4. Shine it everywhere. There is no where that the light of Jesus can’t go. His light–the light that we are reflecting–shines even brighter in the darkness. As believers, we are called to shine that light in every and all situations and places. No exceptions.

5. Let it shine ’til Jesus comes. Our lights are to shine for Jesus forever. We take no breaks from being a light. Until we are called home or Jesus returns to take us home, we are to shine.

Being light should encompass every area of our life. Think about this in light of your upcoming week. Most of us will meet with family and friends over the holidays. It is important to ask ourselves if we are shining our light or hiding our light. To ask if we are encouraging people to walk more closely with Christ or to move away from Christ.  F.B. Meyer puts this better than I ever could–

These thoughts press on one’s heart that one can never speak a word, never transact a piece of business that one’s face is never seen lighted up with the radiance of God or clouded and despondent without it being made harder or easier for other men to live a good life.  Every one of us every day resembles Jeroboam the son of Nebat who made other men sin, or we are lifting other men into the light and the peace and the joy of God.  No man liveth to himself and no man dieth to himself, but the life of everyone is telling upon an increasing number of mankind what a solemn responsibility it is to live.

So as we enjoy (or dread, depending upon your circumstances) our upcoming festivities may we remember that we must shine our little light. May we shine with gusto, exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit. May we have courage to speak truth with great love. May we be the peacemakers and the joy-bringers. Bringing the light of God anywhere we go so that we are encouraging and inspiring those around us to be transformed by God’s power.

I will close with this from John MacArthur–

You are light. You have been called to light the dark world. And the quality of your life is the platform of your personal testimony. You have to understand that. By the kind of life you live, you build a platform on which what you say is made believable. If you have no platform because of your life, your message isn’t believable. And a murmuring discontent, grumbling, griping, complaining Christian is never going to have a positive influence on others. You can’t be talking about the gospel, forgiveness, joy, peace, gladness, comfort, and be moaning and grumbling and complaining all the time. People are not going to believe the gospel will do what you’re trying to say it will do. That’s why the philosopher Heine in Germany said, “Show me your redeemed lives and I might be inclined to believe in your Redeemer.”

Amen! Jesus came as a baby to bring light to the world. We are a reflection of that light! May we shine brightly everywhere we go!

 

*Both of these quotes are from the sermon Stop Complaining, Part 2. I highly recommend both parts!

 

Christmas Wreaths (9)

PLEASE NOTE:

Tomorrow I will present the final part of this year’s Christmas story, “Meeting Ella”. And then next week I will present the 2018 Bible Reading Challenge. I will go back to regular posts on January 4th. Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year! Thank you for being a reader this past year. It means more than you know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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