Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking Backward and Forward

Fridays with Susan 


Do you remember my writing back in September about an encounter with God on a beach in Wilderness State Park in Michigan?  I remember that night as though it was yesterday.  I got up at 2:30 a.m. because I felt too wretched to be lying in bed still any longer.  I made my way down to the beach in the dark and all alone, something I would never, ever ordinarily do.  But whatever could happen to me down there in the dark couldn't have been worse than the darkness I was feeling in my soul that night.  I remember writing about falling completely apart at God's feet and though I didn't see him coming toward me walking on the waves, or hear his voice as a whisper on the wind, I knew, knew, knew something had happened.  As I got back into bed I wiped hot tears off my face and thought they might be melting icebergs.

Well here I sit just three months later.  It's been long enough now to be able to say definitively that something did indeed change.  I still can't say what exactly, but I know that my attitude has changed.  And the attitude of people around me has changed too.  I can only attribute it to God's loving intervention in the life of one of his kids who was driven to cry out in absolute desperation to him.

Three months ago I had big issues with my attitude.  I couldn't change it.  I had no power to change it.  But now it seems so easy in comparison to keep positive, to stay grateful.

Grateful is the word, all right.

This New Year's Eve day, I am thinking about the future.  Not just thinking but planning, yes, even dreaming a little.  I'm actually looking at changing some behaviour in order to get to some goals I think God has dropped into in mind and heart.  I'm looking forward, something I wasn't able to do three months ago, but I'm also looking back.  Looking back and feeling very grateful that this last year is over, for one thing, but I'm even more grateful looking at the work God has accomplished in this hard, frozen over heart.  It took quite a bit of maneuvering for him to get me to a place where I was desperate enough to move over and let him take the reins (and the reign!) in a greater way than ever before.  And I can say unequivocally on this last day of this old year that God has proven himself once again- in my life at least - that he is faithful and true.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Fruit of Obedience

By Belinda

Lord grant me the courage of David to resist the temptation to live a life that is not the one you have given to me..Help me listen and obey your voice today. In Jesus' name, amen. 
Peter Scazzero, The Daily Office

I know the importance of the "abiding,"written about in John chapter 15, and upon which a life in Christ depends completely, even if I haven't been very good at doing it faithfully. But I only thought of it as spending time in God's presence; listening for his voice; reflecting; reading; being positioned before him in a way that his life could flow through mine. And I do think that all of that is true, but today God showed me something more, another key that was missing in my understanding of this passage until now.

I realized today that "abiding" means a moment by moment faithfulness to something God reveals to me as a step of obedience. It might be something that is not at all important in anyone else's eyes, but it will be something that God puts his finger on in my life as incongruous with his life in me. He won't do it in judgement. It  will seem as though two paths lie before me and I have the free will to choose either on a certain thing. If I choose my own will, I will go on as before and in his mercy he will love me no less. But if I surrender in that small thing; if I lay it on the altar as a small sacrifice to him--out of love for him, the prize will be a deeper identification with Christ in me, a greater intimacy. The "abiding" comes in because there will be the temptation to take back that sacrifice. Abiding means not to give that ground away, once taken in my life for Christ. I can think of times in the past when I failed to faithfully sacrifice what I knew God had asked of me and he has patiently waited for me to recognize the tinsel I grasped at when I could have had his precious gold.

Oswald Chambers puts it this way:
The voice of the Spirit is as gentle as a zephyr, so gentle that unless you are living in perfect communion with God, you can never hear it. The checks of the Spirit come in the most extraordinarily gentle ways, and if you are not sensitive enough to detect His voice you will quench it, and your personal spiritual life will be impaired. His checks always come as a still small voice, so small that no one but the saint notices them....Beware of not acting upon what you see in your moments of the mount with God. If you do not obey the light, it will turn into darkness.

Read the passage in John 15 with this perspective and suddenly the references to obedience spring out. But a caution...we cannot do it ourselves even then. "Abiding in the vine" means to draw our life from him; even our will to do his will comes from him, and only the Christ life flowing from the Vine can produce the life of obedience. All is to his glory! Our only part is the act of the will required to say, "Yes; I hear; I will." 

John 15:1-17 (New International Version, ©2010)

The Vine and the Branches

 1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.    5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
   9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Friends on the Journey

By Belinda

Down the centre of the long, oval pine table stood a line of scented candles, warming the room with their soft flickering glow. The coffee pot gurgled and snorted like a disgruntled steam engine as it produced a fragrant brew. And refreshments lay out on the table: Christmas cake, boterkoek and truffles. The house and I were ready...just waiting for the sound of stamping feet and opening door.

In the to and fro of recent conversations about God, we four had been grappling with concepts, seeking to understand some things better and learning how to apply truths grasped. When I listened to a CD in a set I'd bought Pete for Christmas, it so resonated with what we'd been talking about that a week or so ago, I invited them all over to listen to it with me on the first day after the Christmas weekend that we were free. The CD set I gave Pete was Great Books Everyone Should Know: A Practical Guide to 12 Timeless Classics by Dr. Ken Boa. He is such a good teacher and so enthusiastic about the books he is teaching on. The one I wanted Jamie, Susan and Frances to hear was on My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. Dr. Boa had distilled the essence of the book into 16 themes.

We settled in comfortable chairs. Paul came in and joined us and we listened intently, stopping the CD here and there to discuss a point that seemed especially important. The discussion was honest and passionate. We didn't all agree on everything, but we were all seeking to understand and find truth. We sounded a bit like one of those British political debate programs and I thought about the time a few months ago when Pete and I were engaged in an intense conversation one Sunday afternoon about a book I'd read. He wasn't sure he agreed with my thoughts on the book and I was trying to make sure he understood what I meant when little William, our grandson, said, "God is really happy right now because you're talking about him." It stopped me in my tracks and made me laugh but it was so wise and true. Don't you agree that God loves it when we are thinking deeply about him and testing our thoughts with trustworthy friends?

This morning I read today's Daily Light and it was as though God took all of the concepts we were holding in tension and put them  in one devotional reading. About half an hour after I read it, the phone rang and Frances said, "Have you read the Daily Light?" We read it again together and then we read today's reading from My Utmost for His Highest, which neither of  us had read yet--and it seemed as though God was continuing the conversation with us. We both laughed in amazement at how God does this thing.

Later on Susan came over for a belated birthday celebration; her choice was turkey soup at our house. In her hand she carried sheafs of paper. She'd found the notes to the session we listened to, on Dr. Boa's website and had printed off two sets. We read them together and discussed them all again, and then we read the Daily Light and My Utmost for His Highest again, and talked some more.

I pray that the New Year, just short days away, will be one of deepening relationship with Christ and with each other, as we press in closer to him and encourage one another in our faith.

And I am sure that some will spill over here.

Philippians 1:9-10 (New International Version, ©2010)


9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ

Monday, December 27, 2010

Leaving Sally

By Belinda

One night after work last week I drove into Newmarket for one of my Christmas rituals, dinner with my zany friend Irene.

I circled the parking lot of the plaza. It was packed full with cars belonging to the Christmas shoppers. I was thankful to find a space not too far away from the restaurant.

Irene was there already, waiting at a table. I slid into the booth, unbuttoning my coat and unloading my purse and bags onto the seat beside me.

As the server handed us menus, Irene, who'd had the day off, mentioned that she'd had her hair trimmed that afternoon.

"Sally (not her real name) was asking for you," she said.

I groaned. Sally and me, we have history. Sally is my old hairdresser. I haven't sat in her chair for a good five years, but she won't stop asking after me. "Just let go," I feel like saying. but she won't. If Brenda pops in to have her girls' hair cut, she comes home saying, "Sally was asking for you," and my shoulders slump. I don't want her to ask for me; I want her to forget about me.

Irene went on, "She said, 'Do you ever see Belinda?' and I said, 'As a matter of fact I'm seeing her this evening,' and she said, 'Tell her I was asking after her.'"

I felt a now familiar guilt.

"She likes you," said Irene. She was smiling impishly.

"Well, that's all right for you to say," I said, "You come out looking okay. Your hair doesn't even look like you've been to the hairdressers today."

"That's because I go right home and wash it," said Irene cheerfully, "Really I should tell her just to cut it, that's all I needed, just a cut. I should ask her to cut it and then just let me use one of the stations to dry my hair."

But we both understood that Irene wouldn't do that. It would hurt Sally's feelings.

"If Sally was to walk in here right now," she said, "She'd look at my hair and wonder what happened to it."

I thought of one of my previous hairdos by Sally, when I had immediately undone her hard work outside in the parking lot before going on to do some shopping. About half an hour later I turned the corner of an aisle in a store and spotted Sally, who was now also there shopping. I quickly retreated back into the aisle I had been exiting like a tortoise into its shell, and found a way to creep out of the store unseen.

I could have lived with that spy-like existence, but it was the day that there was obviously something wrong with my hair colour (which had been mixed by Sally) that was the impetus for my change of hairdresser. And you don't just change hairdressers--you break off a relationship.

That day, my hair had a distinctly purple cast when the colour was washed off, but when I mentioned it to the girl shampooing my hair, she said, "Well, you tell Sally."

That struck me as odd. Purple is purple and I couldn't pretend it wasn't. This was something I couldn't comb out in the parking lot. So I did tell Sally, and she fixed it by some hairdresser magical corrective hocus pocus, but not before trying to convince me that it really didn't look purple. I stuck to my guns; it was purple all right, no denying it, but having to argue the point was "our" death knell.

By now Irene and I were laughing so hard that our stomachs hurt. I said that if I could be just friends with Sally, without having her touch my hair, that would be all right, but I could never see that happening. She would be bound to ask awkward questions, and even if she didn't ask, it would hang there in the air, "Why don't  you come in to get your hair done any more?" I mean, what do you do with that? Yes, I know, I can hear you saying, "Just tell her." But I can't.

We laughed on and on. The last vestiges of any stress vanished as we considered the humour in the complexity of  relationships and the ridiculous knots we tie ourselves in sometimes. I admit to being such a wimp about this one that I won't even go to the clothing store beside my old hairdresser's in case I bump into her.

So now you know what a jelly belly I am. Welcome to Belindaland.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve: A Mary Christmas

Readers, our friend Dave Hingsburger posted this and I would love you to read it as "our" Christmas Eve post today. I will start it here, and then you can click on the link for the full post. May this Christmas Eve contain moments of reflection and gratitude for the mystery of holiness. Belinda

By Dave Hingsburger

"I don't know this child," I said to myself. She sat, a tiny thing, in my arms. She is a mere four months old, the child of a woman who works with me, and visiting her mom's workplace over the holidays. I'd positioned her so that she could see her mom the whole time. She glanced at me, looked for her mom, then relaxed for a few minutes. In those minutes I felt such huge responsibility. She had to feel both my strength and know she will not fall, and her personal safety and know she will not be hurt. I did not know this child and yet the fact that she trusted me mattered. A lot. The fact that her mother, who did know me, let me hold her mattered...click here to continue

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Emily's Song

Emily is one of Susan's five daughters and in an email today, Susan shared this little song, written for Emily long ago. Because I know that you will love it as much as I do, and because I know that Emily, with a heart as generous as her mom's, would gladly share; with Susan's permission, here it is:

By Susan  

I wrote a little song for my daughter Emily about 20 or so years ago which we sang every night to her as part of her bedtime rituals. As one of nine, she would grasp on to anything that was just "hers", of course, so simple though it is, she loved it, and still asks me to sing it to her at Christmas-time.

You sleep in your own room in your little bed
Mommy pulls your covers right up to your head
You have toys and games to play and lots of things to do
Like crayoning in your colouring books with red and green and blue...

When Jesus came from heaven, he didn't even have a bed
His mommy made a soft place in the hay to lay his head
She put him in a manger 'cause there was no other place
And wrapped him very carefully so the hay wouldn't scratch his face.

You can make a cradle now for Jesus in your heart.
Ask him to come into to stay and he will never part.
He didn't have a place to go when he was born that night
But you can make him welcome now and his love will hold you tight...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Welcome Home

By Belinda

Severe weather causing flight disruption
The southern runway at Heathrow is now open. Airlines are currently operating a significantly reduced schedule while they move diverted aircraft and crew back into position.


It is extremely important that you do not travel to the airport unless you have confirmed your booking with your airline and your flight is showing as 'scheduled' in the live flight information board...
The official website of Heathrow Airport in the U.K. shows hopeful signs that the majority of scheduled flights may take off on Thursday, but thousands remain stranded, holiday plans thwarted, caught up in the chaos caused by the freezing snowy weather in Europe.

Family and Christmas go together like peaches and cream, and being far away from one another is especially lonely and poignant at this time of the year.

In 1969 I was a 19 year old newlywed, spending my first Christmas away from "home" in our new home; Canada. I was wretchedly homesick. Just 3 months earlier we had left England to start a new life, and while Paul's family sailed out of Liverpool together with us in late September, I left behind Mum, Dad and my brother Rob, who was then 16.

I have some idea now, of how sad that Christmas was for them too. The internet would not exist for another 20 years or so, and we could not afford a phone for our first year. I lived for letters from home, which arrived twice a week by airmail. In her letters, Mum wrote about the life I had left behind, the everyday routines of home. But she hid the pain she felt, and the lump of sadness that stayed in her throat for months after we left.

Four years later, during the Christmas of 1973, singers Peters and Lee released a record that went right to the top of the hit parade. It was called Welcome Home. Mum bought the record and brought it with her on her next trip to Canada. It expressed the longing of our hearts to be together. Although the music is dated, the lyrics still touch a chord in my heart. I share it for all the people that are longing to be with family for Christmas. I pray that the weather will clear and that they will make it home.

What's Love Got to Do With It?

A guest post by Sue Smith (fellow member of The Writers Nest)
A "Last-Minute Christmas Sale" flyer swirled around the man’s tattered purple running shoes. The brown paper bag,clutched in work worn hands shouted “alcoholic” to the world. A black and gray Goodwill hoodie made a frail attempt to block the insistent December wind. The man beneath the clothes looked out at the world from the soft shadow of his hood as he sat on the bench by the bus stop.
A thirty something lady collapsed onto the bench next to the hooded man. She instantly projected a wall around him as she looked up at her friend. "Finally. I'm exhausted." She lowered a heavy bag on the ground next to her. " I've had all the phony Christmas cheer from the stores that I can handle."
Her friend, wrapped in a warm camel hair coat, stood glaring at the man willing him to move over. When nothing happened, she exhaled loudly and settled herself and her parcels as far to the other end of the bench as possible. "Well, you know Sally, you really should have checked to make sure your car was back from the mechanic before we left. I could have asked Bart to leave my car rather than get the snow tires today."
Both women deemed the hooded man invisible and continued their conversation around him.
Sally responded "How was I to know that we wouldn't be able to get a taxi to get home? There was no shortage while we were shopping. Now we’re stuck with the bus." She clutched her purse closely as she looked past the hooded man to her friend. "Deirdre you'd better make sure you keep an eye on your belongings while we're on the bus. You never know nowadays." She aimed a pointed glance in the direction of the quiet man.
Deirdre nodded, trying to shrink further into her warm coat. "Did you get everything on your list?"
"I better have because I've spent all that I had planned to and then some. This time of year really hits you in the pocket. I'm so sick of all these charities that you never hear from all year, suddenly sending you all their mouth and foot painted Christmas cards. They make you feel guilty if you don't send them money."
The wind began to feel colder.
"I know what you mean. I don't even open the envelopes anymore- just chuck them in the garbage. Money- money- money that's all they want and you can only give out so much right? After all family has to come first and I've got a huge list from my kids and nieces and nephews. Not to say anything of all the people that Bart works with. They don't expect just little presents either-you should see what he's put on the list for me to get."
"It's the same with me. Being head of department I'm expected to give a decent present to everyone under me. Then the company thinks I should take that out of my Christmas bonus. Go figure. To top it off my secretary went around and got a list of suggestions from the department members saying she thought that would help me -- can you believe that? I mean what am I -Santa Claus? God I hate this time of year. My bank account doesn't recover until at least March and the credit card interest rates suck you dry.”
At the intersection in front of them, an SUV jammed on its brakes as the light changed red. The driver of the truck behind just barely missed hitting the other car. He stormed out of his truck, slammed the door and like an angry bull released at a rodeo, charged forward to the SUV. He went to rip the car door open but the driver, seeing the advancing rage whirlwind in his rear view mirror quickly locked all doors.
The truck driver began pounding on the driver’s window. "What in god’s name do you think you're doing Mr.? I just about ploughed up the back of you. Didn't you see the color of that light? It was yellow -- yellow man- just like you are. You could've driven three trucks through there before the light turned red. Where did you get your license- off the back of a cereal package?"
Then he noticed that the light on the other side had turned yellow so with one final pound on the window he turned back and heaved himself into his truck.
Sally shook her head. "This time of year seems to stress everyone out doesn't it?  I guess we're lucky that God only had one son. Can you imagine going through this ridiculous ritual more than once a year?"
Deirdre looked up as she heard the sound of air brakes announced the arrival of the bus. "Finally- let's get out of here and get home. Lord knows I've got tons of wrapping to do and I haven't even started ordering the food for Christmas dinner."
She grabbed her parcels, shot one more disapproving look at the man on the bench and walked over to the bus.
A gust of cold wind carried away the smell of diesel from the departing bus.
A small black squirrel intent on getting a few more nuts before hibernation stopped for a moment at the feet of the hooded man and looked up. The paper bag rustled as the man reached in and drew out a peanut to place by his feet. As he lowered the peanut, the squirrel stood up on its haunches and gently took the peanut from the man's fingers.
Dark clouds began birthing the first winter storm as white flakes began to claim the season. The man rubbed his hands vigorously up and down his arms for a moment before clutching the bag again.
A young red-haired girl skipped up to the bench. “Come on gran’ma. Here's a place to sit." She patted a spot next to the hooded man and smiled looking up at him. "Hi, my name's Carrie and my gran’ma is looking after me while my mom's at work. All the grade threes are on Christmas holidays you know."
Grandma settled on the other side of the man and began to apologize. "I'm so sorry sir if she's bothering you. Little Carrie is like the “Eveready Bunny." Grandma lent over to smile at Carrie. "She's just a real talker and loves people."
From beneath the hood came a warm voice. "That's all right ma’am. She’s no bother. " 
"My sentiments exactly." Grandma smiled and sat back further on the bench pulling her cloth coat tighter against the wind.
Carrie hopped off the bench and began bouncing. "Look gran’ma-snow! I think it's gonna snow for Christmas. Hey gran’ma, you think we can make a snowman?"
"If we get enough snow I can take you to the park and we can try. But maybe you should get back onto the bench while we're waiting for the bus."
"Hey gran’ma, did you see the church behind us? They've got one of those- what do you call them? You know those thingies with the baby Jesus and Mary and stuff. Can we go and look? Can we?"
Grandma smiled as she stood up and looked at the hooded Man. "I know the bus just left so we probably have time. Would you mind just keeping an eye on these parcels? We'll be right by the church behind us."
From beneath the hood the warm voice assured her that her parcels would be safe.
Grandma smiled at Carrie. "It's called a Nativity scene. And yes we do have time to go and see the baby Jesus."
Carrie skipped circles around grandma as they walked over to the Nativity scene outside the church. "This is wonderful- just like Christmas should be with snow and everything." Carrie laughed and put her tongue out trying to catch the snowflakes.
Once Carrie arrived at the scene she became quiet. "Gran’ma, do you think it's okay to walk on the straw and go and peek at baby Jesus?"
"I'm sure that would be okay with Jesus."
Carrie went down on her knees to be able to peek into the little cradle holding the doll. She was quiet for a moment just looking. "It's just really a doll right gran’ma?"
"Yes it is dear, but it's to remind us about what really happened about 2000 years ago in Bethlehem."
More quiet from Carrie.
Grandmother looked back over to the bench by the bus. "We should get back there because that kind man is watching our parcels."
"Okay grandma." Carrie seemed subdued as she walked back to the bench.
They sat down and Carrie watched the snowflakes melting on her open palm.  "Christmas is his birthday, right? So I want to give him something. I just want to put something in the cradle so he won't feel so alone."
The hooded man’s voice startled the grandmother. "You're welcome to give him this." He said as he reached into his brown paper bag and brought out a soft toy lamb to hand to Carrie.
Grandmother was perplexed and couldn't read the motivation from the hidden face. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I am."
Carrie accepted the small gift and sat staring at it, her forehead furrowed. You could almost hear the snow falling.
She turned back to her grandmother. "But in the manger- that's just a doll. I want to give the real Jesus a present for his birthday. I don't know what to do."
The grandmother thought for a while and then turned to the man in the hood. "You were so kind to give Carrie the little lamb. I don't think she's going to leave it with the doll so perhaps we should give it back to you?"
“Would you accept it as my Christmas gift to your granddaughter?"
"Please grandma, can I keep it please- please- please?" She hugged the little lamb up against her chest.
Grandmother was puzzled. What a strange fellow he seemed to be. "Why that's very kind of you. We're complete strangers and yet you've shared something with us that seems to be special to you."
She looked at him as if seeing him for the first time. "Do you have anywhere to celebrate Christmas? Do you have a family to be with?"
 His head tilted up as the hood slid back slightly revealing eyes reflecting profound emotion . Wisdom and pain flickered through them like lightning. 
"Yes, I have a family. A rather large one but I'm not sure that I would be welcome at their table." A single tear ran down his left cheek as he quickly wiped it away.
Grandmother's heart melted. "The bus will be here any moment. Please, you would be welcome at our table and in our home. Let me give you our address."
The bus appeared around the corner of the street in the distance as he took the piece of paper.
Grandmother stood up and began to gather her things. "By the way sir, my name is Madeline. What is yours?"
"My name is Joshua but you can call me Josh." His eyes shone summer in the winter afternoon.
Carrie looked up at Joshua as the wind blew his hood back over his brown hair. "Mr. Joshua, I would really like to give Jesus a present for his birthday. What do you think I could give him?"
Joshua went down on one knee and looked deeply into her eyes. He smiled and answered. "The most important thing that you could ever give to Jesus would be your love. All he wants is for you to love him and let him love you and guide you through your life. Do you think you could do that little lamb?"
 The bus pulled up and grandma stepped up the first step reaching out for Carrie. Carrie stepped up hugging her gift and turned to Joshua. "I can do that. I can give him me for his birthday."
As the bus doors begin to close grandma called back "Don't forget we expect to see you at our home for Christmas dinner. I want you to know you will always have a place to stay and visit whenever you need to. Merry Christmas, Joshua."
"Merry Christmas, dear ones." He called out as the bus doors closed. He turned to walk away but stopped for a moment. He looked up through the swirl of thickening snowflakes and smiled.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Best Birthday Gift Ever!

by Susan...

The phone rang and, characteristically, without so much as a quick "hello", Mikey launched into the purpose of his call.  "What are you doing for your birthday, Mommy'sMum?"  I smiled at his inability to grasp onto  the necessity of social niceties and began to formulate my answer.

Having no plans for celebrating your birthday is not unusual when your special day is the week before Christmas - especially, like this year, when it falls on a Saturday.  It's a busy season and there have been many years when the day has come and gone without much ado, between shopping, and wrapping, and Christmas parties, and church gatherings, and school concerts.  (It's hard to compete with Jesus, whose birthday is the same week.  And who would want to? :) )  So when Mikey asked what I was doing that day,  I responded quickly without going through my mental "Calendar of Social Events", and said, "Nothing...  Why?" 

Mikey was quick to fire back.  "Good! I'm taking you to the Marlie's game.  You're gonna love it!  They're playing Rochester.  It's a home game - at the Ricoh Coliseum..."

"Do you have tickets?" I ventured.  I was trying to wrap my head around having to go to a hockey game.  I hate hockey. 

"Oh, don't worry, there's always empty seats.  We won't have trouble getting tickets when we get down there." 

Darn. 

"How are we going to get there, buddy?"

"Oh, Dad's going with us.  He's gonna drive.  We've got it all figured out.  We're gonna drive down, park at the coliseum and find a place to eat.  There's lots of restaurants down there..."

I had a feeling that my birthday plans were on a train leaving the station and too bad whether I wanted to be on board or not!  But love covers a multitude of apprehensions and I was soon chuckling over the irony of how it appeared I would be spending the day... or the afternoon at least. 

Then I remembered.  "Oh, Mikey, I forgot!  I'm so sorry, but Papa bought tickets for The Messiah that night.   I won't be able to go to a hockey game that day after all."  I hated to disappoint him, but I can't say I wasn't a bit relieved.

"Just cancel it," he said.  His tone was matter of fact and I'm sure it made perfect sense to him.

"But I can't just cancel it..."  I tried to explain,  "We have to go.  The tickets cost a lot of money and Papa would be disappointed."

"But why do you have to go?" 

I tried to explain that it's tradition.  "It's something that Papa and I really enjoy doing together.  We try to go every year if we can.  And he's already bought the tickets.  They cost a lot of money and we can't take them back..."

"What IS "The Messiah"?" he interrupted.

I tried to find words he could understand and accept.  I began to tell him that it is one of the greatest masterpieces of music of all time and that it is traditional to have performances at Christmas time.  I don't think he was impressed by the fact that it is one of my favourite things to look forward to all year.  But at the same time, the last thing I wanted to do was disappoint a little boy who had landed on the perfect birthday gift for his beloved grandmother.  His voice went low and his disappointment was obvious.  With one final ray of hope he asked, "What time is the concert?"

"In the evening," I said.  "It always starts at 8 o'clock."

"Mommy'sMum!  I've got it!  I'll call you right back!"

There was no "goodbye" as the phone went click and the line went dead.  I set the handset down into the re-charging station only to have it sounding off again a few minutes later.

"Hello..."

Once again, there was no "hello" in return.  Mikey started right in on his perfect solution.  "I talked to Dad," he said.  There was no question but that I would instantly approve of this newly decided adjustment in our plans.  "The Marlies play at 3:00.  We'll go down in separate cars.  After the game you and Papa can go to your concert and Dad and I can come home!  It's perfect!"


"Are you sure?"  It was a silly question.  His tone had already told me that he was dead sure.

So that's how I came to be sitting in the 12th row behind the net, last Saturday afternoon, as the Rochester Americans beat the Toronto Marlboroughs by one goal in an overtime shootout.  (Not that I cared!) The last few minutes were pretty exciting.  And as much as I enjoyed being with Mikey and exulting in his giving of "the gift", I must admit it was kind of hard for me to stay connected to that little black piece of rubber down on the ice.  My mind wandered a time or two.  Ron pulled out his cell phone in order to capture a picture of me enjoying the game at one point during the second period:

I hope I didn't snore!

I did stay awake for most of it.  Long enough to make sure Mikey had a slice of pizza.  And there was a trip to the gift shop to buy him a Marlies sweater that he can wear playing shinny hockey on his backyard rink this winter.  Between parking, the pizza, and the hockey sweater, his gift only cost me about 85 bucks.  Good thing Mikey and his dad paid for the seats! 

As we walked back toward the cars I thanked him for the best birthday present ever.  I stopped, got down on his level and looked into his eyes just before he and his dad got into their car to go home and we separated to go on to Roy Thomson Hall.  "Mikey, thank you so much for this birthday present.  I loved that you gave me your very best gift.  You know what I'm getting you for your birthday next year?"  I paused for effect.  "It'll be the best birthday present ever I could give you!"  His eyes shone with expectation.  

"Tickets to the symphony!"  I crowed.

Papa and Daddy Mike erupted into laughter, but judging by the way his face instantly fell, I don't think little Mikey appreciated my humour at all.

One of my more wakeful moments.  I love this ragamuffin kid.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

How Old is Jesus?

By Belinda

Her blue-grey eyes looked intently into the green of mine. I had just asked her when my birthday was; a silly question, because she remembers the year and date of innumerable people's birthdays with effortlessness. It is a gift that amazes me.

"June 1st, 1950." she says, "You're 60 years old, I'm 54, that means you're 6 years older than me."

Numbers fascinate the friend I'm sitting beside for a few minutes at our Big Christmas Party at work--it is a facet of her Autism.

She leans in close and her eyes drill into mine as she asks, "How old is Jesus this year?"

Still focused on numbers, I give a ridiculous answer, "He's 2010 years old!" Silly me, of course that was so wrong. For all eternity, he was, and he will be--forever.


But for two thousand and ten years the Spirit of Christmas Present, as Charles Dickens wrote, has appeared, and the story of Jesus' birth has been told and retold in an unbroken chain of Christmases.

This morning our congregation watched with misty eyes, smothered laughter and the same age old wonder, as this year's crop of little ones dressed up as sheep, angels with topsy turvy tinsel halos, bath robed shepherds and wise men, acted out the familiar and precious scriptures, read by a child in a tutu, who looked like a charming blend of fairy and angel.

Within this story is the true Gift of Christmas; a gift so many have yet to unwrap, even those of us who may have heard the story often. This year may it be your year; may you receive the gift God longs to give.

Luke 4:18 (New Living Translation)

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,

Friday, December 17, 2010

Living Stones

Fridays with Susan


"...you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood..."  I Peter 2:4

We spent hours on the phone this week.  Another living stone and I.  We talked and laughed and grappled with new issues and old hurts.  We each had occasion to humble ourselves and to confess sin (we had judged and mistrusted and pretended everything was all right when it really, really wasn't.  We had quietly and secretly harboured feelings which had affected the other and which had affected our relationship in general. 

In the course of our  coming through to the broad place of peace, we laughed, we cried, we lost patience with each other, we interrupted, we gave in, we gave up, we started again, We prayed, we misunderstood, we gave an inch, and then a mile, we took responsibility, we validated our feelings, we gave each other forgiveness and accepted and at long last we came to that place of understanding that only God can give. We laboured long in relationship, and together we gave birth to a new understanding of each other.  And of God.

It was hard, but it was good.  Oh, so good.  And worth every bit of effort.  We are two friends who fought for peace together.  We fought for love.  And love won.

Living stones.  That's what God compares us to.  "...Living stones who are being built together into a temple..." 

What is a "temple" but a place for God to come and dwell? 

If we are living stones, then it's obvious that what holds us together is "relationships".  If we, in relationship to one another, form a structure that God himself will grace with his presence, then can we afford to indulge in any kind of attitude or action which might jeopardize that?  Can we nurse our hurts or be afraid to humble ourselves and admit when we are wrong?   Can we indulge in self protection, or apathy?  Can we let our relationships cool, our friendships cease to be?

 If we can get it together;  if we living stones will choose the narrow way and the steep path, which is simply to love one another - no matter what - then God's presence will be in us and evident to those around us - especially to those who belong to a lost and dying world.

But what is love?  What does it mean to love - really love - one another?

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. ..:  I Corinthians 12:4-7

It always trusts, it always hopes, it always perseveres?

Yeah, always.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Tipping Over Point

By Belinda

I left the office at 5.30 pm in a rosy glow. I'd worked hard all day but could not miss the sense of anticipation and preparation in the air. Plans were being made for visits home and staff coverage over Christmas and the Big Christmas Party is almost here. Yes, it had been such a good day.

The roads were clearer than they'd been for days and I even ventured to the post office to pick up mail on the way home, finding our mailbox packed tightly with cards. I don't think one more thing could have been squeezed in there. "It was a good thing I managed to get there tonight," I thought.

I pulled up to the house and approached the front door with my laptop bag hanging from one shoulder, and a briefcase, lunch bag, shopping bag and mail in my hands. I had to press the doorbell for Paul to let me in as I had no hands left to fiddle with the door.

The first words he said as I came through the door were, "Frances called. She wanted to know if you could cook a turkey for Sunday."

I can't remember what I said, but it was probably, "What?!" or "No!" I've been doing very well, surrounded by the carefully managed (or unmanaged, depending on your viewpoint) chaos of my household at the moment, but with a cell group party tomorrow night and The Big Party on Friday night and apple pies to bake on Saturday for the pot luck dinner at church on Sunday, a TURKEY had no place in my life.

I didn't even take off my coat before I called Frances. "Hello dear," came her cheery voice over the phone, followed by the good news, "Don't worry, I think I've found people to cook all the turkeys." And while I peeled off my coat and sank onto the couch, we both laughed at turkey saga.

Our church is notoriously disorganized when it comes to just about anything. If you like even a hint of organization you couldn't stand it, so the fact that only four days from our Christmas pot luck lunch, Frances would find herself in charge of finding people to cook turkeys, is normal for us. I had been lulled into a sense of security by the fact that it seemed so organized this year. For several weeks our bulletin has announced, "Christmas Potluck Dinner--December 19, immediately following the service. If your last name begins with A-G, please plan to bring a dessert. If your last name begins with H-Smith, pleas bring a side (veggies, rolls, stuffing, etc.) If your last name begins with Stewart-Z, please provide a potato dish to share."  Silly me, I didn't even notice the dearth of turkeys. In fact I would have been quite happy with dessert and a few "sides."

But there were to be turkeys and Frances found herself "it," the "turkey cooker finder," or, as she blurted out when she called one home, "I'm looking for curkey tookers." When she got the call asking her to do this job, ten year old Eden said nervously, "Oh, yes Mommy, I forot to tell you the pastor called two days ago."

Frances herself was having a big family turkey dinner of her own on Saturday after working on Friday evening and was handling the role of searching for cookers, or "happy cookers" as she put it, quite well under the circumstances, even though she had no idea what size of turkeys or how they were to be cooked because those instructions didn't come along with the job. We laughed that she could have had a similar response to Mary's when Gabriel made his announcement of her assignment to become the mother of Jesus, "How shall this thing be?"

Later in the evening, I was loading the dishwasher when Brenda staggered into the kitchen in her pjs, hair up in a barette, looking exhausted, french manicured nails delicately holding a recipe for "snowball cookies."

"This is very stressful," she said. She meant the baking. She took the nut chopper she had come to borrow and left for the nether regions and the torture of baking.

A few minutes later I was watching "Cold Case Detectives," when she came back with the recipe. There seemed to be a crucial ingredient missing. Indeed there was no mention of sugar. We found the correct recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. "It's nice knowing you're up here," she said, and left to resume the baking.

An hour later she came upstairs followed by an admiring Tori, holding a round, icing sugar coated cookie for me to try. It was delicious.

You may have heard of "the tipping point," which is, according to The Free Dictionary, the "level at which momentum for change becomes unstoppable" or  "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point."

Well, I think that today, December 15th, may be the tipping over point for all of us getting ready for Christmas. :)

Proverbs 17:22 (New International Version, ©2010)

22 A cheerful heart is good medicine,...

Snow in Heaven

By Belinda (sorry for being a little "behind my time" this morning! This is a post from the past. Enjoy.)

"Miss Cheryl,” asked Stephen “is there snow in heaven?"

Stephen’s question took his school bus driver by surprise. Her young passenger, whose short, dark hair was as hard to tame as his spirit, looked up expectantly. His brown eyes, normally dancing with mischief, were serious and shining with curiosity.

Stephen; named for one of the saints of the Christmas season; knew that Miss Cheryl could be counted on as a source of reliable information. This warm, kind hearted woman, had the biggest of gentle, blue eyes that twinkled with good humour. She had forged a special relationship with the children on her bus. This question though, was out of her league.

"I don't know, Stephen. You could ask your dad--he's a pastor after all."

"He hasn't been to heaven," stated Stephen, with all the logic of a 6 year old.

Miss Cheryl had to laugh and agree that he was right.

Neither of them was aware of the rustle of angel wings around them, and of ears bending close to listen to this private conversation. “The child wants to know if there is snow in heaven," said one of the angels--the angel named Gabriel; angel ears are always keenly tuned to children's voices and even more so at Christmas time.

"Yes, Stephen, there is snow in heaven;" whispered Gabriel, "for snow reminds us of all that heaven is. Each snow flake in its perfection carries within it a tiny image of the star of Bethlehem, if only you look closely enough. White fields of them look like diamonds glittering in the sun."

Gabriel continued, "Wherever snow falls and covers the good warm soil of earth, children lie down and make snow angels just as real angels appeared against the blanket of the skies on a long ago Christmas Eve."

Gabriel's eyes had a far away look as he remembered how, just as snow falls from heaven, as gentle as a feather, so it was, one Christmas long ago, that God sent down to earth his most precious gift of all, Jesus.

Although Stephen hadn't heard the angel's voice audibly, he suddenly felt that he knew the answer to his question. He couldn't explain it, but he knew, as sure as he knew anything; the answer was, yes...there is snow in heaven.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Timbrels at Yorkmnster Citadel

By Belinda

It's been one of our Christmas traditions for over 5 years, going with Susan and Ron to the annual Christmas concert at Yorkminster Citadel Salvation Army , ever since one of their five beautiful daughters, Emily, married a handsome young man named Mike who plays the tuba in the brass band there.

This year's concert was last Saturday night and it included the wonderful children's choir, the Con Brio Singers. The church was packed more tightly than I've ever seen it, with chairs being brought out and placed in every possible nook and cranny. There were no seats anywhere when we arrived, but Paul and I were given chairs in a window alcove--right at the very front. We felt as though we were sitting in the Royal Box!

From our perfect seats I recorded some of the concert on my Flip camera. This clip is of the timbrels. I hope it brings a special bit of Christmas to your day. The people of this church put all of their own needs on hold during the Christmas season and go into overdrive singing in malls, packing toys for children who would have none otherwise, and volunteering on those famous Christmas kettles.

video

Marirose's Favourite Broccoli Recipe

For Dave, by special request, the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book recipe for the broccoli casserole that Marirose said everyone asks her for, once they try it.

Broccoli and Onion Casserole

2 10 oz packages of frozen cut broccoli (Marirose uses fresh broccoli)
2 cups frozen small whole onions or 3 medium fresh onions, cut into wedges (Marirose uses the fresh ones)
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 3-ounce  package cream cheese, cut up
1/2 cup shredded American cheese
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 cup soft breadcrumbs

Oven 350 degrees

Cook broccoli according to the package directions. Drain well, set aside. Cook frozen or fresh onions in boiling, salted water about 10 minutes or until tender. Drain; set aside.

In the same saucepan, melt the 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in the flour, salt and dash pepper. Add milk. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 1-2 minutes more. Add cream cheese; stir till melted. Stir in the broccoli and onions. Turn into a 1 1/2 quart casserole. Top with American cheese. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter or margarine; toss with crumbs. Sprinkle over casserole. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes. Makes 8 servings

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Time on My Mind

By Belinda

I picked up an audio book from the library a couple of weeks ago: The War: An Intimate History, 1941-1945 by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns. Since I started listening to it, it has held me in its grip.

I was born 5 years after the end of World War 2, but it affected my life because it touched and changed my parents' lives so deeply.

I don't think I'll ever stop trying to understand what it was like for them. I'm not sure why it's so important to me--it was, after all, 70 years ago when it all began. I just know that it is; although the more I learn about war the more questions I have to which there seem to be no answers.

The book follows the lives of several ordinary Americans through those years. Their experiences are pieced together through journals and letters, one of them the diary of a young American girl in the Philippines who spent the war in a Japanese internment camp.

Courtships were whirlwind and intense. "You lived your life realizing that you didn't have a lot of time," wrote one young pilot. And that statement captivated my thoughts because at least they realized it.

We live our lives as though we are going to be here forever, but this morning as I sat in church I looked around at the congregation and thought that in 50 years there would be a whole different congregation in the pews. Well, maybe there will be some Burstons, Parkers, Stewarts, Geyers and Furuyas scattered amongst the congregation--but if there are, they will be our grandchildren or their children.

I think it's a good thing to have a sense of how brief this portion of life is. It has to help you focus better on what's important.

And I'm getting more excited about what's next! In our cell group last week we were discussing God's eternalness and how time itself is a human limitation. We are stuck on a linear track, living moment by moment, while God has no such boundary. Past, present and future all seem to have more of a fluid nature and I think that we have no idea how incredible it will be to experience that.

For now, we are here, plodding along, grounded, but it's a very good thing to recognize, as the people in the book could not help but do, that, "You don't have a lot of time."

Do what matters.

Psalm 39:4 (New International Version, ©2010)

4 “Show me, LORD, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.

Psalm 90:12 (New International Version, ©2010)

12 Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Recipe Exchange

By Belinda

"Belinda, what do you put into your hot apple cider?" My coworker Marirose was at my house with the rest of the team to work on our budgets for the coming year and I had assembled coffee, cold drinks and hot apple cider as well as an array of snacks to encourage us in the task. The hot apple cider in the slow cooker made the house smell like Christmas.

"I start with just apple juice," I said, and began to list off the ingredients, with my own small adaptation.

I went to the bookshelf in the kitchen that holds my collection of cook books, and pulled off the  Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook to show her the recipe, in case she wanted to write it down.

"I have that cook book!" said Marirose, "But my pages are all stained and the pages are falling off the ring binding."

I smiled as I turned to the page with the recipe, lying loose in the book, spattered and stained.

Marirose started flipping through the pages, showing me her favourite recipes. "Here, this one, it's my favourite broccoli casserole," she said, "Everybody asks me for this recipe." I had never noticed it.

She was bubbling over with recipes now, "This one, this square recipe--I only make it on special occasions, and children can help without it getting messed up. It's wonderful." Again, I would never have known. I have hunted for a good square recipe but never noticed that one.

"And my favourite Swiss steak is in here."

There was no end to the treasures between the pages of my old standby recipe book that I didn't know about. On the other hand, there are recipes that I return to again and again; just different ones to Marirose.

I suddenly had a funny idea for a cookbook party--a gathering of friends where we all bring our favourite cookbooks and share the recipes that we had all along but didn't know it.

It made me laugh at my own lack of logic--how once I have a new cookbook, there will be a certain number of recipes that I will return to again and again--and then tend not to explore any further. But I will buy a new cookbook. Weird eh?

And then I got to thinking that this is such a metaphor for some other areas of life. How often do we look for new and better things when all we have to do is look closer at what we already have....

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Little More Advent

For a perfect read to go along with the hymn posted in haste in the wee hours this morning near the end of an overly eventful and taxing week, see our friend and kindred spirit Janet Sketchley's guest post on the Inscribe blog:
http://inscribewritersonline.blogspot.com/2010/12/preparing-for-his-comingjanet-sketchley.html

I couldn't have said it better myself.  :)  Thanks Janet.

A Hymn for Advent

Fridays with Susan....

A short discussion with Belinda last Sunday about some of the old hymns of the Church for Advent brought to mind this old favourite which is burned into my memory. 

Lo! he comes, with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign.

Every eye shall now behold him,
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at nought and sold him,
pierced, and nailed him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see.

Those dear tokens of his passion
still his dazzling body bears,
cause of endless exultation
to his ransomed worshipers;
with what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
gaze we on those glorious scars!

Now redemption, long expected,
see in solemn pomp appear;
all his saints, by man rejected,
now shall meet him in the air:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
See the day of God appear!

Yea, amen! let all adore thee,
high on thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory;
claim the kingdom for thine own:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Thou shalt reign, and thou alone.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Words: John Cennick (1718-1755), 1752;
as altered by Charles Wesley (1707-1788), 1758;
and then altered by Martin Madan (1726-1790), 1760
 

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Writers Nest

By Belinda
The writers of "The Nest" met last night, for our annual Christmas pot luck at Bonnie's welcoming home.
 
Messages flew back and forth by email throughout the day. Was the party still on? Streamers blowing across from Georgian Bay created scary driving conditions in some parts. But a turkey was cooking and there was no stopping it, so while some regretfully missed this wonderful gathering, others of us managed to get there, bearing desserts and salad, truffles and wine, cheeses and sweet potatoes.
 
Our common bond is a love of writing, but we love one another too and celebrate the life journey that we share as we write, month by month, encouraging the gifts we see in each other.
 
In September we decided to publish a Christmas anthology: The Christmas Quilt--and Susan Starrett, a gifted graphic artist as well as writer, designed the title page. We all went home with our own copy of this treasury; 23 pieces of writing to read throughout Christmas.
 
Bonnie's burgundy, gingerbread screen door banged as each of us came in from the cold night and into the warmth of good company and food.
 
We laughed until the tears streamed at our baking misadventures. Michele told of the time she made a bundt cake and absentmindedly poured the mixture--through the hole in the middle. Sue made a delicious turkey soup with a carcass simmered long with vegetables and then placed a colandar in the sink and poured the stock down the drain, while saving the bones left behind. Magda made a carrot cake and thought she had added brown sugar from a bulk food  bag. It was when she licked the bowl at the end that she found she had used a bag of onion soup mix instead.
 
And we laughed at Magda's story of a mystified teacher who wondered at a child's depiction of the Christmas scene--three figures lying in the manger. The little one explained that they were, "Mary, Joseph and Jesus, lying in the manger." And the very round man in the background was "Round John Virgin."
 
We feasted, made merry, read to one another, and then went back out into the dark night to find our way back to our homes, with hearts full of friendship and Christmas.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Searching for Christmas--Prayer answered

 By Belinda
Tonight was my third Christmas party of the season--our writers group pot luck. Bonnie had made a 2010 Christmas anthology of our writings, which we called The Christmas Quilt. My story was one I posted here in August. After dinner, we gathered in the living room to read out loud, stories that we had brought with us. I had not brought one, but Susan asked me to read the story of mine that was in the anthology. I'm so glad she asked, because when I first read it to the group, just after I wrote it, I read it with a sadness and poignancy that tugged at my heart and those of the listeners. Tonight I read it as a prayer that had been answered and it sounded completely different! I have found Christmas. My heart is at peace; I am not stressed; I am enjoying each and every celebration and every card I open. So, I share it here again--to give you a taste of a summer so recently past while we shiver in the snow--and to say that God is so faithful and true.
*************************************************************
August was hot and steamy. Sweat trickled and tickled down spines and hair clung droopily to heads. I explained to some English guests with a craving for bracing “fresh air,” that flinging open the windows would not help at all. After a few days here they believed me.
I got into the habit of taking late evening walks with Molson, our golden retriever. Normally he bolts from the house like an arrow from a bow, but even he moved slowly on those sweltering August evenings, with the fields surrounding our village buzzing and humming with the rhythmic pulse of insect life, and the intoxicating scent of summer blooms hanging in the still air.
With my senses drenched in summer, I had Christmas on my mind one night late in August. I pondered the next third of the year and wondered how to get it right. Maybe if I started now, I thought, this year I might find the Christmas I long for; because I’m looking for it every year—the one with the joy and the peace the angels talked about.[1]  They appeared suddenly to the shepherds, and just as suddenly they were gone, but I remember their promise, “News of great joy...peace to men on whom his favour rests.”
Jesus said of the Kingdom of heaven, that it “Is like treasure hidden in a field.”[2] That is the perfect metaphor for the treasure that is Christmas too, for it is also hidden, covered with earthiness; the sacred beneath the secular. 
The forces of a powerful enemy work to obscure it. He’s been doing so from the beginning. I mean the very beginning; when he, that old serpent, the first proponent of suggestive selling, said, “See this fruit? You didn’t know you needed it but you can’t live without it. What you have with God? It’s not enough.”
At the root of Christmas Gone Wrong; for me, at least; is the anxiety of “not enough.” Drill down deeper and “I” am not enough; the simplicity of the manger in Bethlehem is not enough; no gift I buy is good enough. The angels’ good news of joy and peace lies buried in a field of the enemy’s innuendo. And I buy into the lie; adding layer upon layer that obscures the simplicity of Original Christmas.
Bethlehem was small; the guest list hardly impressive; the venue was minimalist in the extreme. I am a follower of one born there, who lived his life peacefully and powerfully, unencumbered by entrapments, but my life often does not reflect that so well.

Dusk was falling around me as Molson and I walked home that August night.  I glanced at an old century home on the opposite side of the road. The steep gable of the Presbyterian manse pointed, as if to heaven and from a circular attic window twinkled two tiny lights; one red, the other green.
Forgotten Christmas lights, or a message from God? I choose to believe that he heard my heart cry and was sending a signal back to let me know.
Christmas--it’s a celebration of what happened in Bethlehem, pure and simple and that is so much more than enough. With God’s help I want to live out that truth this year and if I do, I know that I will find the Christmas I am longing for.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
[3] 


[1] Luke 2:9-14
[2] Matthew 13:44
[3] Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem, verse 4. Rector Phillips Brooks (1835-1903)
Pen and ink drawing of the Presbyterian Manse by Mary Artymko, Bond Head