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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Christmas Story

In our new community, there is a women's Bible study group that meets in our clubhouse. Our leader is a passionate follower of Christ who had served as a missionary in Central America. Right before Christmas last year, she shared a story she had written about an answered pray for a fresh perspective on the story of Jesus' birth. The story led me to also see Jesus' birth from a new angle, and I asked to share it with you.

Essay written by Charlotte Rich, shared with permission:

Philippians 2:5-11

It was Christmas time in the small Central American country and Helen, who had been serving there as a missionary for five years, was packed into the crowded old bus on her way to the capital city. Usually she bought what she needed for the special season at the little market in the small mountain town where she lived. But at this time of year, she needed some things that only could be found in the much larger city market. It was a trip of some hours on the narrow winding road. As she was jostled back and forth, crushed between an Indian mother nursing her baby and an older man balancing a cage of chickens on his lap, she began to ponder again on the real meaning of this holy time. Only that morning she had asked God to help her understand and appreciate the incarnation. For so many years had she read the Luke account of the birth of Christ until it had become so familiar that she could quote it by heart. But, in the process, it had become so commonplace and, she hated to admit, a bit boring.

Helen’s thoughts were brought to an abrupt halt as the bus pulled up in front of the market. She could have known where they were if she had been blindfolded; the smell revealed the location. The front entrance was marked by a huge mound of garbage that had been there for several days. The people who frequented this market didn’t seem to mind the stench at all; it was just the way it was. To Helen, whose little house, although meager was always clean, the odors were almost more than she could bear.

The “market” was really a conglomeration of small open stalls rented by vendors from miles around who made their living selling their own kinds of wares—beans, chickens, tortillas, baskets, ponchos, carved wooden souvenirs, clap pots, soup, rice, various fruits and vegetables—and each stall was manned by a seller who tried to gain attention of the buyers by proclaiming the benefits of his product. These stalls were crowded together as tightly as Helen had been on the bus. Many stalls had a small canopy, made of wood or cardboard or cloth, covering the front of their booth to protect both their merchandise and the buyer from the sun or rain. However, the aisles between the booths did not have a roof over them, and the space was open to the sky and the weather.

Christmas time is rainy season in Central America, and rain had been heavy for days. Although it was not raining now, overhead could be seen heavy dark clouds, and the rain had already done its work—there was mud everywhere.

Helen’s senses were bombarded by unpleasant stimuli. A few skinny, starving dogs could be seen crawling beneath the tables hoping to pick up some scraps and refuse that had been dropped, while at the same time dodging the kicks of young and old alike. The meat hanging on hooks ready to be sold was covered with flies, and the hands that chopped the meat were unclean, with dirt-lined fingernails. Most of the vendors slept on their property to keep from being robbed. There were no sanitation facilities and they did the best they could to deal with their situation, but the result was a mixture of “people” odors along with all the other smells.

Helen went from booth to booth bargaining with the owners, amazed at the way these hard-working people accepted their lot. As she stopped at the stall of a man and his wife and small daughter, she watched as the young unkempt child, maybe about eight years old, walked around the outside of the stall. She had no shoes. Her tattered dress didn’t seem warm enough. An apron with a large front pocket was tied around her waist; inside the pocket she carried both vegetables and change. She walked through the crowd and sold her wares until her pocket was full. Then she came back to her home stall to unload the money and gather more vegetables to sell.

While Helen was observing this, she heard a small sound coming from under the counter of the family’s stall. It sounded like a kitten and Helen wondered how such a poor family could feed an extra mouth—and an animal, at that. The mother reached under the counter and pulled out a cardboard box. When Helen leaned over to look at the kitten, she was surprised to see a small dark-haired baby wrapped in grimy swaddling rags. The mother picked up her baby and began to nurse it from a soiled breast. A feeling of pity and distaste washed over Helen. That poor child! It was born into a world of poverty and filth; dirt and uncleanness were everywhere. She wanted to grab up the baby and take it home to give it a bath. What’s more, she wanted to get home and take a bath. Everywhere she looked was dirt, and she couldn’t handle any more. She made her purchase and hurried back to the bus. As she made her way past the garbage dump, she tried not to breathe, but she could not hold her breath forever, and that smell blanketed the area.

Finally, the bus started, and she was glad to be on her way. Oh, she felt so dirty. How thankful she was that she was not born in such a situation. It wouldn’t be long before she could enter a clean house, take a hot shower, and slip in-between clean sheets. She could hardly wait to be free of the mire and stench that were hers just from being in such a filthy environment.

Suddenly, Helen’s thought processes stopped! It was as if God opened a window into her mind and light was streaming through. Jesus was just like that baby in the box! He left a place of holiness and glory—a place with no sin of any kind—the pure, unsullied, hallowed, spotless presence of His father in Heaven and took the form of a human child to be born in an evil world full of, and surrounded by, sin. It was like the filth and stench of the market. Although no sin was in Jesus, everywhere he looked for all His life there would be sin—it was everywhere. Oh, how he must have missed Heaven! And, at the end of His life on earth, He took all that sin on Himself on the cross. And He did it voluntarily. Helen bowed her head and humbly thanked Jesus for all He had left and endured for her. How could she ever repay Him? The incarnation would never be the same for her. God had answered her prayer of the morning and had taught her a lesson that she prayed she would never forget.

As you read this story, I hope you pictured in your mind the sights and sounds and smells!  Imagine this lovely woman, raised in the rich comforts of the United States, being thrust into this other world—a world of filth! Why? Because of love. She chose to show the love of Christ to those of a different world.

Now imagine Jesus thrust into the sin-stained world we live in. Why? Because of love. There is no greater love. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

This, That, This Again

When we first bought the 5th wheel, (I wrote about it here) we had so many plans and dreams. We were ready to go places!

Sometimes life throws a curve ball when you least expect it. 

We sold the 5th wheel (you can read about that here) and settled into our new normal taking care of Dad.

Yes, he's still with us. Still under hospice care. And between Dad and his eighteen-hundred-and-something house, it's a race to the finish. Yes, the house is living its last days too.

But we're starting to dream again . . .

We're toying with the idea of buying a small class-C motorhome. Not the one pictured here, but similar. Not one we would live in for six months while building a new house, but one we could easily park in a driveway of someone we love. And miss. Easily one we could travel in for short trips of two or three weeks. Maybe a month. One we could easily drive to Ohio to visit our grandkids.

It's not on our agenda for this month. But it's on our radar. Who knows what the future holds!

Have you ever done a do-over? What did you change the second time around?

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Living a Life on Hold

As we continue as caretakers for my dad, my husband and I try to find time to be together making memories in our new home on the river. Since Dad has improved enough to be alone at night (and he goes to bed around 7), we often spend our little chunk of time relaxing on our screened porch or on the clubhouse deck overlooking the river. Last night, we took a little ride on the golf cart around the corner to the public boat ramp. 

The moon was bright, giving a hue of violet above the treetops, and the lights from the marina restaurant shown across the river to the wild lands on the other side. The Spanish moss dripping from the cypress tree added a perfect frame to the view.

As much as I loved our views on the farm, I love this one more. I've always been drawn to the water and have loved this river since I first water-skied on it as a kid in the early seventies.

Now that I can share this amazing river with the love of my life, I have a whole new appreciation for the peace and beauty here. 

Our life is in a holding pattern as we fulfill our caretaker rolls. But someday soon, we will spend our days exploring the river by boat, making new memories as we memorize the shoreline of our own paradise.

Have you ever had to put your life “on hold” for a situation? What was it? How did it affect your relationships?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

There’s Always Tomorrow for Dreams to Come True . . .

When Ray and I bought the RV, we planned on traveling the states in our portable home. After settling into our new permanent home (which caused us to not travel in 2017), we planned on heading out on a long trip through the western states this spring. Fate had other plans.

My dad's cancer progressed to where we needed to be with him 24/7. We made the decision to sell the truck and 5th wheel and put off our plans for extended travel until Dad no longer needed us. We sold the rig to a young couple who plan to live in it full-time, as many people do down here.

Dad was days away from death, spending his days in a hospital bed, hospice in daily, when he suddenly got better! The doctors and nurses are amazed! But even though he cheated death this time, he’s still near the end of his run. Ray and I take turns sitting with him at his kitchen table, preparing his meals, laundering his clothes, and doing anything else that needs done.

Some days are difficult. Dad and I never had a close relationship. He’s a very negative man—always complaining, always got the raw end of the deal. But I’m doing my part of the whole “honor thy father” thing. And you know what? It brings me joy.

Even though it’s hard to please my father, it’s easy to please my Father. He tells me what to do, and then guess what? He helps me do it! His grace is amazing. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

FaceBook friends, what have you become?

Unfollowing more and more friends due to their hate speech. Btw...when I say hate speech, I am not speaking of voicing your opinion. I am not speaking of a disagreement on issues. Anyone that knows me, knows that I very much appreciate your right to be heard.

I am speaking of lumping people together in groups to bash. Be they democrats, republicans, liberals, conservatives, atheists, gays, blacks, Mexicans, Christians, Jews, Muslims... What breaks my heart the most? My friends who are "inclusive" and "loving everybody", daily (hourly) posting hate messages. Does it accomplish anything? How do you reconcile this with your peace-loving hearts? Do you not see what you are becoming? How will we ever be united again?

While I'm venting, is what "The Donald" said any different than your "Walmart People" posts? I see so many memes making fun of others. Y'all laugh and share. But let a shallow celebrity murmur anything similar, and you're all up in arms! Get real!

And speaking of celebrities, how does a woman who gets rich by acting like a slut on stage become a voice for respecting women? Really? And who among us doesn't think that some women would allow rich and powerful men to degrade them? Isn't this the same generation that threw their underwear at rock stars? The same nation that sent 50 Shades of Gray to the best-seller list?

And when you're bashing those rich politicians, include the Dems. Yep, even Bernie is way above my budget. But you buy into it and allow it to divide your families and your friendships.

At least it doesn't take as long to scroll.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Too Close to Home, but Still I Have Peace

When we spot any similar image on a TV screen, we tend to briefly stop what we're doing. We look to see if it's something important to us, or just some random item from across the country. Sometimes we shake our heads, and sometimes we are stunned. 

Today, I was stunned.

But I didn't hear about it from the television news team. My phone rang.

My daughter was crying.

She said, "I need you to..." I don't remember the words she chose…
Help me focus? No. Talk me down? Maybe. Perhaps. Doesn't matter. She was in reaction mode
and needed to hear something that would make her feel better about her world at that moment.

There had been another school shooting.

Three of her children--my grandchildren--were in lock down.

My first reaction was what is always my first reaction—
He is my strength in times of trouble.

After culling all the information she had on the situation—it happened at a school next to her district; she knows some of the kids there; so far there were no fatalities being reported; two people had been care-flighted to a hospital; they have the shooter—I let God’s peace speak through me. I calmly reminded her that they don’t take dead people to the hospital by helicopter. I asked her if she remembered the school shooting where all the schools nearby got shot up, too. No. I told her she didn’t remember because it didn’t happen. Never (thank you, Jesus) has that happened. I reminded her that Satan loves it when we worry, and what the Bible says about worry. I told her that she needed to stay focused on what was real, and not what she could imagine. 

We talked until she felt a fraction of my peace. Our girls were safe. Today. I reminded her of the temporariness of this world, and that eternity is waiting and Jesus is still Lord. And I meant it.

I did cry today. Once. After I knew the injuries weren’t life-threatening, after my daughter knew her babies were safe and sound, after all was well with our world again… I began praising God with song. Alone in the room, I sang, ‘Praise Him, praise Him, Jesus our blessed Redeemer…’ and the flood gates opened. Happy tears. Rejoicing in the faithfulness of our Lord. I was thankful for being able to remain calm and show that calmness to my daughter. 

It’s because I practice.

The schools have to practice for these kinds of incidents to be prepared. Our armed forces practice to be prepared. Even public speakers practice to be prepared. We also must practice to be prepared. We practice by daily allowing God to be our strength. 

If you practice something often enough,
it becomes your in-the-heat-of-the-moment gut reaction,
instead of the when-all-else-fails reaction.

No, I haven’t perfected it. I could still get caught off-guard by some extreme circumstance, and crumble to the helplessness of this human experience. But my odds are better. Odds are I will call upon the Name above all names. 

Because I have practiced.

How do I practice? In my relationship with Jesus Christ, I talk to Him daily—pray without ceasing. I study His Word. I do not forsake meeting with my sisters and brothers in Christ—especially my sisters! I don’t know what I’d do some days without my great church friends. If ever I have a time of weakness, falling away from that gut reaction to take it to the Lord, I know they will pull me back.

We practice our faith. And practice makes perfect. Perfect peace in the storm.