An Unconventional Christmas Story

Most people are familiar with the second chapter of Luke this time of year.  It is a beautiful telling of the birth of Christ given to us by Luke, the physician.  I love the fact that Luke was a physician because it helps to explain why he includes so many details.

Back before teachers were told not to include Scripture in their teaching, my fifth grade teacher had everyone in her classroom memorize a good portion of Luke 2 as part of our homework assignment.  It stays with me even today and I love to hear it read aloud and ‘follow along’ in my head.  It wasn’t until many years later that I came to understand exactly why Luke was so excited.  It was some time after that, even, that I found you can read the Christmas story in bits and pieces throughout the entire Bible.

Here is an unconventional telling of the Christmas story:

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

“But when the fullness of of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born  of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons….Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”  (Galatians 4:4, 5 & 7)

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

“So the child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.”  (Luke 2:40)

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  (John 3: 16-17)

Oh, don’t miss that last part!  Whether you read Luke 2 or find the truth of the birth of Christ throughout the rest of Scripture, don’t miss out on that last verse.  The fact that He came is important.  The reason he came is critical.  He came–in such an unconventional way–to reach YOU and tell you how much He loves you and make it possible for you to spend eternity with Him.  THAT is really the Christmas story.  It is the only Christmas present that ever really mattered.  Open it for yourself today?  Once you’ve done so, share it with those around you and watch the season become more meaningful than ever before!

Take time to revel in the beauty of the perfect and unconventional gift of God this season!

Grace, Peace and Merry Christmas!

By the way, I’ll be taking the next few days to celebrate with family and friends.  I pray you’ll have the same joy and opportunity to see God at work around you in the lives of the people you love!  I’ll see you back here in the new year!

*photo by Becky Childs

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Of Truman Capote and the smell of Christmas trees…

Many years ago–is it really that long ago?!–a dear friend moved to California to pursue a dream.  One dream led to another and she found herself teaching a group of inner city kids about all kinds of things they had never experienced:  great literature, drama (the theatrical kind…I believe they already had seen plenty of the other kind) and classical music while they read.  So far from her Alabama home and her roots, it was almost like missionary work to bring glimpses of wider horizons to children inhabiting in a larger city, but a smaller world than the one from which she came.

California is a long way from North Alabama…and never more so than during the holiday season.  My friend was having a pretty rough time of it and being unable to come home for Christmas just made it worse.  I decided to send a bit of home to her.

For years, my mother has made the most beautiful fresh greenery wreaths in the world.  That year, I had her make one just for my friend.  It was large and heavy and the people at UPS looked at me like I was nuts when I asked them to build a box around it and send it all the way to California.  It was ridiculously expensive to do that.  I felt compelled to do so anyway.  I had it shipped to her in care of the school’s address so it wouldn’t “disappear” from her front step while she was at work.

She hung it in her classroom and called to tell me of all the commotion it caused.  People came from all over the school to see what brought the scent of Christmas in the South all the way across the country.  It absolutely permeated the whole hall and was, she said, the perfect addition to her planned reading for the season.  The lush and pungent greenery brought a whole new atmosphere to the reading of Truman Capote’s short story, “A Christmas Memory” to students who had never been outside the city, much less to evergreen forests to search out their own trees for celebrating Christmas.

I was glad to hear that so many were able to enjoy the wreath and thrilled that it could enhance the reading experience for kids who had never been challenged in such a way before my friend arrived in their world.  The real payoff for me, however, was the joy in my friend’s voice.  That was worth every penny spent and then some.

God bless the educators who go out of their way and out of their comfort zones to share knowledge and possibilities for the future with young minds who so desperately need to know there are other options than just the ones they’ve seen!  Teachers, your gifts are far more valuable than you are often told.  Thank you for sharing your lives so those you teach can have better ones.

Exerpt from Truman Capote’s short story, “A Christmas Memory”:

Morning. Frozen rime lusters the grass; the sun, round as an orange and orange as hot-weather moons, balances on the horizon, burnishes the silvered winter woods. A wild turkey calls. A renegade hog grunts in the undergrowth. Soon, by the edge of knee-deep, rapid-running water, we have to abandon the buggy. Queenie wades the stream first, paddles across barking complaints at the swiftness of the current, the pneumonia-making coldness of it. We follow, holding our shoes and equipment (a hatchet, a burlap sack) above our heads. A mile more: of chastising thorns, burs and briers that catch at our clothes; of rusty pine needles brilliant with gaudy fungus and molted feathers. Here, there, a flash, a flutter, an ecstasy of shrillings remind us that not all the birds have flown south. Always, the path unwinds through lemony sun pools and pitch vine tunnels. Another creek to cross: a disturbed armada of speckled trout froths the water round us, and frogs the size of plates practice belly flops; beaver workmen are building a dam. On the farther shore, Queenie shakes herself and trembles. My friend shivers, too: not with cold but enthusiasm. One of her hat’s ragged roses sheds a petal as she lifts her head and inhales the pine-heavy air. “We’re almost there, can you smell it, Buddy?” she says, as though we were approaching an ocean.

And, indeed, it is a kind of ocean. Scented acres of holiday trees, prickly-leafed holly. Red berries shiny as Chinese bells: black crows swoop upon them screaming. Having stuffed our burlap sacks with enough greenery and crimson to garland a dozen windows, we set about choosing a tree. “It should be,” muses my friend, “twice as tall as a boy. So a boy can’t steal the star.” The one we pick is twice as tall as me. A brave handsome brute that survives thirty hatchet strokes before it keels with a creaking rending cry. Lugging it like a kill, we commence the long trek out. Every few yards we abandon the struggle, sit down and pant. But we have the strength of triumphant huntsmen; that and the tree’s virile, icy perfume revive us, goad us on. Many compliments accompany our sunset return along the red clay road to town; but my friend is sly and noncommittal when passers-by praise the treasure perched in our buggy: what a fine tree and where did it come from? “Yonderways,” she murmurs vaguely. Once a car stops and the rich mill owner’s lazy wife leans out and whines: “Giveya twobits cash for that ol tree.” Ordinarily my friend is afraid of saying no; but on this occasion she promptly shakes her head: “We wouldn’t take a dollar.” The mill owner’s wife persists. “A dollar, my foot! Fifty cents. That’s my last offer. Goodness, woman, you can get another one.” In answer, my friend gently reflects: “I doubt it. There’s never two of anything.”

Attention, Pretzel People: It’s ok to say “no”…

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2 (NIV)

“It’s ok to say ‘no’ to people.” The reminder came from my husband on his way out the door as he saw me trying to accommodate the schedules of several people all on the same day. His parting words stuck around a lot longer than he did because I haven’t been able to quit thinking about the truth found in his statement.

I know this. I’ve said the very same thing to him and to me and to others for much longer than I care to recount, but I needed to hear it again today.

Maybe you do, too? Maybe in this Christmas season someone else has lost focus for just a bit, as well?

So. What does that have to do with Ephesians 5:1-2, you ask? Well, quite a bit, actually. Let’s break it down a bit. There are some really important things to see here:

  1. “Be imitators of God…” Notice that it is God we are to imitate, not anyone/everyone else. Before you succumb to the expectations of others or become a pretzel trying to do what “everyone else” is doing or wants to do this holiday season, check with your Maker. What does He require of you–today and every day after this one?
  2. The “therefore” is there for telling us how we’re to live out the imitation of God–how we are to follow Him. We’re to do that as “dearly loved children and live a life of love.” The phrase “dearly loved” does not mean you have to be responsible for every one else’s happiness this season. Children are rarely put in charge…for lots of reasons. We’re simply not equipped for it and we are not in charge. God is. We just have to know that we’re loved and love others in the process. (Hint: this will not end when the holiday season passes.)
  3. The phrase “just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” tells us that we are not to be selfish or self-centered. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be logical about your own limitations. It means that God should be your priority and the real reason you choose to celebrate this season…not because other people expect you to do so in any given way. It also tells me that God may require us to do some things this season (or any other time of year) that might be out of our comfort zones. The trick is to make sure that it is actually GOD who is doing the requiring and not someone else. It’s too easy to get caught up in our own misguided desire to be all things to all the people we love and cherish or those we simply want to impress. (Ouch.)

This message is a public service announcement and early Christmas present brought to you by the former (and obviously still reforming!) Queen of the Pretzel People: It really is ok to say, “no.”

It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas…

It is December 19th and the sun is shining outside.  The thermometer–a different one from yesterday’s photo!–reads almost 60 degrees.  {Maybe the thermometers aren’t really that different after all.  (grin)}  I will not need a jacket as I go about my outside chores today.  On the way to the herb garden to pick some fresh bay leaves, I noticed that the two large planters on the upper deck have plenty of healthy growth on this summer’s petunias, there are two rogue blooms on the mums in the back pots and two fading bloom clusters on the Lady Banks rose at the end of the house.  As I went into town yesterday, I passed a large forsythia bush already in bloom.  It is most definitely does NOT look like Christmas in this part of the country.

Living in the South means that we may have a very similar day once Christmas actually arrives.  Oh, we’ll still have Christmas, it just won’t look like the pictures in all of the Christmas cards on display in our entry area.

I can’t do anything about the weather, but I can enhance the holiday spirit with white lights in the leaf-free maple trees out front and a simple white spotlight on the front porch decorations.  I can place decorations in strategic places around my home–and I’ve done those things.  That still doesn’t make it reallly feel like Christmas.  What does it for me is how Christmas smells and I can make you think “Christmas!” with just one whiff as you enter my home.  The pungent scents of cedar and pine combine for a wonderful welcome thanks to the great big wreath of fresh greenery beside my front door.  (Thank you, Mama.)  There are two pots of blooming narcissus flanking the nativity set on the mantle.  Freshly baked cookies will add their own welcome in just a short while, but in the meantime, I’ve got a crockpot full of potato soup cooking for our supper and there’s a pot of “Simmering Christmas Potpurri” on the stove thanks to the seasonal gift from my precious #2.

Just in case you’re somewhere it doesn’t look like Christmas, either–or if you just want to add a bit of Christmas cheer to your home, I’m including Patty’s recipe below: 

Simmering Christmas Potpurri

1 Orange–quartered

1 Lemon–quartered

10 whole cloves

2 cinnamon sticks

1 bay leaf

2 cups of water

Simmer on the stove to enjoy the smells of Christmas.  Add more water and use for several days. (As usual, I don’t always follow the directions exactly…and it generally turns out just fine!)

Breathe deeply, friends.  It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas!

I’m dreaming of…

No, not a white Christmas!  Although I do like the song, I’m from the South.  We rarely get snow here–and that’s just fine with me!  (Although it has absolutely nothing to do with this post, after mentioning the song, I feel compelled to include this photo of a typical snow at my house.  This was from 2008 and although the thermometer was stuck at the time, the temperature wasn’t that far off!)  (grin)snow 2008

There are quite a few people dreaming about different things this time of year.  It might be about presents, about the people they plan (or wish) to see, plans for travel, ideas about what 2013 might hold for them or things too personal to even say out loud.  I read two different blog column emails this morning before 8 AM about this subject…and other than the fact that both authors were ‘dreaming’ about something, the posts couldn’t have been more different.  The subject did, however, pique my interest.  I got online and started to look up quotes about dreams.  I found quite a few, but the following one really got my attention:

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”  ~ Henry David Thoureau

I love this quote!  It fits right in with some of the thinking and planning that we’ve been engaged in here for the past few months–years, actually.  Starting a business can be a bit daunting.  Learning by trial and error can be costly and try your patience in ways that will astonish you.  Trying to create a busness plan that will actually become successful and have a part in your future is not for the faint of heart.   Just trying to imagine a different life for yourself can take some time to do.  Putting the dream into action–actually creating that reality for yourself is both frustrating and fabulous.  Finding out that people like something you’ve created enough to part with their cash and take it home with them–well, that can be a lot of fun!  Before the fun, however, comes a lot of hard work and a lot of hard dreaming.

We’ve been working on the schedule for next year, talking about different product line options, new ideas for how we can make our production easier–all within the confines of keeping our little busness debt-free.  It means we grow at a slower pace, but we’re convinced that this is God’s best plan for us and our business.  It fits in with what we believe He has chosen for us in the other parts of our lives.  The lives we imagine for ourselves give us the push to keep going.  The lives we imagine for ourselves can seem far away some days…and then…God shows up  and brings us a day like yesterday with calls and orders and the opportunities to help someone send “Christmas” to a loved one far away and, in the process, help make it special.

To be creative, debt-free, servant-hearted blessors who find beauty all around them and get to share God with those around them in the process…That is the life we imagine.  Those are the days we live for..dream of…

For your weekend…

I think every person on the planet is familiar with the phrase “going green.”  The green movement is famous for their slogan of “reduce, re-use, recycle” and those are pretty good ideas!  I’m going to add two more R-words to it:  redistribute and redecorate!

Challenge #1 is about redistributing blessings to specific people you know who are in need of a smile, a lift, or a shift in their load.  Earlier this week I issued a challenge to find some room in your budget or schedule to bless someone you know with a little bit extra time or money during this season of giving.  Now, I know that your middle of the week was busy, so I’m taking this opportunity to remind you that there’s still time to do this!  Choosing to pass along some of your good fortune is just pure fun!  Don’t miss out on this opportunity to bring even more blessing into your own life!  I PROMISE that you won’t be able to bless others without some of that blessing sticking to you!  It’s a guaranteed smile producer…try it!  As God’s own funny little way of reminding me about this, He sent the following quote into my email this morning:

“God has given us two hands: one to receive with and the other to give with. We are not cisterns made for hoarding; we are channels made for giving.” — Billy Graham

Challenge #2 is about another of my personal favorites:  redecorating!  I love to move things around and find new uses for them.  Almost everyone I know has already started decorating for the holidays–and if they haven’t started, then they’ve at least started thinking about it.  Several years ago, I went through our Christmas decorations and did a MAJOR down-sizing.  Everything “Christmas” fits into one single large Rubbermaid tub–except for the tree, a tree stand and the box with the big nativity in it…and the nativity box and tree stand fit on top of the Rubbermaid container!  Now, I did this for two reasons:  1–we had WAY too much stuff and 2–I had just been to one of our area charity shops and overheard people asking for decorations because they couldn’t afford to purchase them elsewhere.  It would have been unspeakably selfish to hoard my plenty–and not even put it all out!–when there were others who were in need of some Christmas cheer!  I can’t tell you how happy the in-take workers were when all of my boxes of  ornaments, lights, etc. arrived…they didn’t even take time to really catalog them, just took them straight out to the floor because there was such a ‘need’ for those items.

SO…Challenge #2 has 2 parts:  1–Go through your Christmas decorations and see what you can part with this year as a donation to a charity shop in your location.  Make a listing for your tax purposes and their convenience in case they’re in the same state of need our group was and have some fun thinking about how items that have brought your family joy will now do that same thing for others. This is a separate challenge from #1–THIS one is for giving to people you do not know.  (smile)

2–Once you’ve reduced your abundance, look through what you have left and pick one item to use in a different way this year.  This is the ‘redecorating’ part of your challenge.  As a part of the purge process, I donated all of our beautiful glass ball ornaments…except for one.  It belonged to my husband’s grandmother.  I found it years ago at the bottom of a box of household items…no box…no protection, just this really fragile-looking ball of glass from the 1950’s or 1960’s.  It’s been through the ringer a bit.  It has some scuffs, but it survived.  (Kind of like us, so I think that’s one of the reasons I saved it!)  I never hang this ball on a tree.  I always look for a way to use it differently.  Example:  for the past year, it’s been part of the guest room decor!  I turned it upside down and placed it in a tiny Wedgwood vase and placed it on a table in the guest room.  It’s protected, it’s quirky, it has great sentimental value and it looks like a miniature gazing ball, which entertains me greatly!

Whatever you choose doesn’t have to stay out for a whole year!  Just find a new use for it this season.  Perhaps a small wreath becomes the table centerpiece with candles placed inside the ring.  Maybe your pretty Christmas napkins get draped across the back of your kitchen chairs or (This is another thing I’ve done for years!) your table runners get hung over the top of the bedroom doors for a festive banner look as you go down the hall.  One caveat…USE WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE!  Don’t use this challenge as another reason to shopping!

Going Green for the season has never been such fun!

See you back here on Monday!

Grace & Peace!  (now, go get busy blessing somebody today!)

*Photos by Becky Childs

Editing

I’ve been doing a bit of editing this week.  I like doing that kind of work, especially when I know both the writer and the subject matter, because I can ‘hear the voice’ as I read.  It’s a bit like having a conversation…only they can’t hear your side of it…until later. (smile)

You have to be careful when you’re editing someone else.  The point is to make their work sound as good as possible; not make it sound like YOU.  It’s a fine line to walk and I’ve often wondered aloud if I was exercising my spiritual gift of administration by putting things in order or just exercising a critical spirit!  I’ve been known to have both.

Being an editor for this particular project has made me think about how God edits us.

(Some of you just got a shock, didn’t you?! You weren’t aware that God was editing you.  He is, though.  Trust me.)

If you’re NOT a follower of Christ (yet!  See!  I’m always hopeful!), don’t think you’re getting off easy.  He’s still editing your life.  He’s bringing you into contact with people and situations that are all designed to show you that He loves you; that He knows you; that He’s in control…and that you’re not.

If you ARE a follower of Christ…well, He’s doing those exact same things for you!  (LOL!)  Don’t you love it?!  Believers still need those lessons.  Perhaps we need them even more once we believe.  As much as we’d like to think that we’ve got things under control because we know God and He knows us, it isn’t always true.

It IS true that HE has everything under control.  It’s also true that He’s not controlling.  That sounds like an oxymoron because it is.  (Just a little reminder here:  anytime there is a ‘discrepancy’ in what you think you’re hearing about God…it means DIG DEEPER!)

God created all of us to have both common and individual purposes in this world.  The common purposes would be to come to know His Son as Savior and Lord, to glorify Him by our life choices and to tell others about Him.  The individual purposes are just that…individual.  Those are the ways that He uses us to shape and edit the lives around us.

It’s all done with a purpose on His end, as well.  Because He loves us so much, He wants the very best for us.  He’s in the process of making each of His creations as good as they can possibly be (just like His Son) and, at the same time, He’s preserving our ‘voice’ in the process.  What good is it if we’re all automatons?!  God wants to use our individual personalities to serve His common goal—that’s the way the people around us know it’s for real!

They’ll know what God says is true because they will see and hear the difference in us!  Now, that is the mark of a great Editor.