Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

 About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancĂ©e, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

Luke 2:1-20 (The Message)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Day in the Morning - by Pearl S. Buck

(This is a reprint of my very favorite Christmas story.  It still makes me cry every time I read it.  Now, put on your jammies, snuggle up by the fire, and read about the gift of true, selfless love.)

He waked suddenly and completely. It was four o’clock, the hour at which his father had always called him to get up and help with the milking. Strange how the habits of his youth clung to him still. Fifty years ago, and his father had been dead for thirty years, and yet he waked at four o’clock in the morning. He had trained himself to turn over and go to sleep, but this morning, because it was Christmas, he did not try to sleep.

He slipped back in time, as he did so easily nowadays. He was 15 years old and still on his father’s farm. He loved his father. He had not known it until one day a few days before Christmas, when he overheard what his father was saying to his mother.

“Mary, I hate to call Rob in the mornings. He’s growing so fast and he needs his sleep. If you could see how he sleeps when I go in to wake him up! I wish I could manage alone.”

“Well, you can’t, Adam.” His mother’s voice was brisk. “Besides, he isn’t a child anymore. It’s time he took his turn.”

“Yes,” his father said slowly. “But I sure do hate to wake him.”

When he heard these words, something in him woke: his father loved him! He had never thought of it before, taking for granted the tie of their blood. Neither his father nor his mother talked about loving their children – they had no time for such things. There was always so much to do on a farm.

Now that he knew his father loved him, there would be no more loitering in the mornings and having to be called again. He got up after that, stumbling with sleep, and pulled on his clothes, his eyes tight shut, but he got up.

And then on the night before Christmas, that year when he was 15, he lay for a few minutes thinking about the next day. They were poor, and most of the excitement was in the turkey they had raised themselves and in the mince pies his mother made. His sisters sewed presents and his mother and father always bought something he needed, not only a warm jacket, maybe, but something more, such as a book. And he saved and bought them each something too.

He wished, that Christmas when he was 15, he had a better present for his father. As usual, he had gone to the ten-cent store and bought a tie. It had seemed nice enough until he lay thinking the night before Christmas, and then he wished that he had heard his father and mother talking in time for him to save for something better.

He lay on his side, his head supported by his elbow, and looked out of his attic window. The stars were bright, much brighter than he ever remembered seeing them, and one was so bright he wondered if it were really the star of Bethlehem.

“Dad,” he had once asked when he was a little boy, “what is a stable?”

“It’s just a barn,” his father had replied, “like ours.”

Then Jesus had been born in a barn, and to a barn the shepherds and the Wise Men had come, bringing their Christmas gifts!

The thought stuck him like a silver dagger. Why should he not give his father a special gift, too, out there in the barn?

He could get up early, earlier than four o’clock, and he could creep into the barn and get all the milking done. He’d do it alone, milk and clean up, and then when his father went in to start the milking, he’d see it all done. And he would know who had done it.

At a quarter to three, he got up and put on his clothes. He crept downstairs, careful of the creaky boards, and let himself out. The big star hung lower over the barn roof, a reddish gold. The cows looked at him, sleepy and surprised.

“So, boss,” he whispered. They accepted him placidly, and he fetched some hay for each cow and then got the milking pail and big milk cans.

He had never milked alone before, but it seemed almost easy. He kept thinking about his father’s surprise. His father would come in and call him, saying that he would get things started while Rob was getting dressed. He’d go to the barn, open the door, and then he’d go to get the two big empty milk cans. But they wouldn’t be waiting or empty; they’d be standing in the milk house, filled.

The task went more easily than he had ever known it to before. Milking for once was not a chore. It was something else, a gift to his father who loved him. He finished, the two milk cans were full, and he covered them and closed the milk-house door carefully, making sure of the latch. He put the stool in its place by the door and hung up the clean milk pail. Then he went out of the barn and barred the door behind him.

Back in his room, he had only a minute to pull off his clothes in the darkness and jump into bed, for he heard his father up. He put the covers over his head to silence his quick breathing. The door opened.

“Rob!” his father called. “We have to get up, son, even if it is Christmas.”

“Aw-right,” he said sleepily.

“I’ll go on out,” his father said. “I’ll get things started.”

The door closed and he lay still, laughing to himself. In just a few minutes his father would know. His dancing heart was ready to jump from his body.

The minutes were endless – ten, fifteen, he did not know how many – and he heard his father’s footsteps again. The door opened and he lay still.


“Yes, Dad–”

His father was laughing, a queer sobbing sort of a laugh. “Thought you’d fool me, did you?” His father was standing beside his bed, feeling for him, pulling away the covers.

“It’s Christmas, Dad!”

He found his father and clutched him in a great hug. He felt his father’s arms go around him. It was dark, and they could not see each other’s faces.

“Son, I thank you. Nobody ever did a nicer thing–”

“Oh, Dad, I want you to know — I do want to be good!” The words broke from him of their own will. He did not know what to say. His heart was bursting with love.

“Well, I reckon I can go back to bed and sleep,” his father said after a moment. “No, hark– The little ones are waked up. Come to think of it, son, I’ve never seen you children when you first saw the Christmas tree. I was always in the barn.”

He got up and pulled on his clothes again, and they went down to the Christmas tree, and soon the sun was creeping up to where the star had been.

Oh, what a Christmas, and how his heart had nearly burst again with shyness and pride as his father told his mother and made the younger children listen about how he, Rob, had got up all by himself.

“The best Christmas gift I ever had, and I’ll remember it, son, every year on Christmas morning, so long as I live.”

They had both remembered it, and now that his father was dead he remembered it alone, that blessed Christmas dawn when, alone with the cows in the barn, he had made his first gift of true love.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Relief Effort

Sometimes, when I was very little and I would go shopping with my mom, she would escape my presence for a second or two and I would panic, thinking I was lost.  I remember this feeling of sheer terror, thinking myself alone and unprotected…then my dear mother would emerge from the dressing room and wrap me in her arms.  I wasn’t lost after all—she had been there all the time, I just couldn’t see her.  I thought of that experience when I read this passage from Psalm 31:21-24, and it made me remember that God is like that:

Praise be to the Lord,
for he showed his wonderful love to me
when I was in a besieged city.
In my alarm I said,
“I am cut off from your sight!”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
when I called to you for help.

Love the Lord, all his saints!
The Lord preserves the faithful,
but the proud he pays back in full.
Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord.

He is forever present.  He is protecting us even when we can’t see Him. He hears us when we call.  Just like my Mom would never forget me when we were shopping in a department store (maybe at a football game, but never at a store –it’s Ok Mom, I’ve gotten over it), God will never ever forget to be present.

We don’t have to panic or be alarmed.  He is waiting to help.

The Lord preserves the faithful.

Be one of them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Hide Myself

I read about myself today.  It was in Proverbs 18:2…

“A fool finds no pleasure in understanding
but delights in airing his own opinions”

The minute I read it, I knew God was showing me that I had been a fool recently, when in a conversation with my husband…ON HIS BIRTHDAY…with the rest of my family…including my parents (sorry I was such a dork, Mom and Dad)…I INSISTED that I knew something that I really DID NOT.  In fact, I was so sure that I thought I knew what I DIDN’T KNOW that I said confidently, “I am 100% sure!” Well, obviously, WHEN I WAS PROVEN WRONG, I found that I really wasn’t even 1% sure of my previously aired opinion, and I felt like the fool that I had actually portrayed. 


Really, folks, I have no business in drawing attention to myself, no business in bringing myself glory, because as I learned with the children when they were small, MAN’S CHIEF END IS TO “BRING GLORY TO GOD AND TO ENJOY HIM FOREVER!” (Heidelberg Catechism). This kind of leaves me and my ‘100% sures’ out of the equation. 

Next time I am tempted to jump into a conversation just to show WHAT I AM SURE OF, or to correct someone that I KNOW is wrong, I think I will remember another proverb I read recently and take it to heart:

“Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.”

Proverbs 17:28

And all the people said, “AMEN!”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Practicing Prudence

Here’s a good word for you to add to your parenting vocabulary:  PRUDENCE.

Now go check out what it means at  www.18shortyears.com where I am the guest blogger today.  You’ll be glad you did!  See you there!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Just the other night, Shay came running out of her room screaming that she had seen a mouse.  Shay did not do this quietly or gently, but she very clearly announced her predicament to the entire family so that we were aware of her distress.  In fact, she was so loud that I’m sure that her brother and sister in Iowa City probably heard her exclamations of fear and dread.

Shay feared something that looked like this:


Cute, huh? 

She wouldn’t even go in her room until her dad went in with a spade (I think he was going to garden it to death) and hunted the tiny, albeit elusive, enemy.  Finally, convinced that it had ventured on to more important items like toothpaste and Q-tips, she returned to her rodent-defiled abode, still fearing that the mouse might return and eat her hair, giving her a bald spot, like Pa in Little Town on the Prairie.

The funny thing about this story is that, besides eating a hole in her luscious locks, the tiny little creature really couldn’t hurt her because she was much bigger and stronger than it.

It’s the same with trials in this life; they are scary, they throw us off balance, and we like to cry about them so others can hear.  But when we call in the big Guns--the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we can rest assured that they listen...and act.

It is God’s job to protect us, to give us what will make us look most like Him.  His judgments are always right even when we don’t think so. Even when they make us cringe.  Because we are His children, He will go to the ends of the earth to aid us in our understanding of Him.  He tells us that we are “more than conquerors through him” (Romans 8:37) and that “no one can snatch [us] out of [His] hand.” (John 10:28).

So, if we truly believe that God is good, and that He is working for our eternal good, we need to stop letting the trials of this life overwhelm us and we need to look forward to our forever Home where “He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things  [will have] passed away.” (Revelation 21:4).

Through Christ, we are much bigger and stronger than anything this world can throw at us.  We need not be trapped by our fears. 

God’s got it.

Get it?



Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

Monday, December 10, 2012

Death by Denial

While we are on the subject of sin…

“Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh . . . .” The cost to your natural life is not just one or two things, but everything. Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself. . .” (Matthew 16:24). That is, he must deny his right to himself, and he must realize who Jesus Christ is before he will bring himself to do it.

Beware of refusing to go to the funeral of your own independence.

-Oswald Chambers

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Stop Feeding It

I once had a very wise 7th grade English teacher who, when asked how he got his dog to stop pooping inside the house, said,

 “It’s simple; I just stopped feeding him.”

Cute.  Now, if you love your dog, I wouldn’t recommend that.  And maybe if you want to keep feeding your dog and he won’t stop pooping on your carpet, you could get some diapers and cut out a hole for his tail, or you could hook up a bucket-type thing—like you see on horses in parades—to catch anything falling from his little hiney.  Or you could train him to do his duty outside.  Novel idea. 

You know though, when you apply this idea to sin in our lives, it makes perfect sense.  We can struggle with sin all we want, but until we make a decision to demote it to it’s rightful place—with us being it’s master through Jesus’ resurrection on the cross—and it being our slave, we will have no victory (I wrote about that in my last post.  You can read it here). Really, it’s all about starving;  starving our sinful habits until they are no longer habits, saying “no” to ourselves when we struggle with an appetite for temporal sinful pleasures, and ignoring our feelings (by listening to our minds that are filled with God’s truth) when they thirst for vengeance, unforgiveness and immorality.

If we want sin to stop coming out of us (believe me, dear reader, I could have written that in a much more creative, distasteful way), we need to stop feeding it.  We need to crave God’s glory more than our pleasure.  We need to see long, like God does, and not short, like we do.  And we need to make choices that make us look more and more like Jesus and less like ourselves.

So, here’s to starving our sin (and our dogs, but only if we don’t like them. Kidding, I’m kidding.  Don’t report me) until old habits die and new life appears.

No carpet cleaning necessary.


What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:21-23

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Every time my super cute and furry cat, Sasha, gains access to the garage, she spends many minutes sharpening her claws on the mat that sits right below the stairs.  She seems to think this innate activity is very important and so she exerts great effort to complete the task.  Here’s the weird thing, though; Sasha doesn’t have any claws.  She just does the whole claw-sharpening thing because it comes naturally to her—being a cat and all.

As I watched her habitually scratch the mat this morning, it brought to mind the book of Romans which we have been studying in church, and it made me think that we, as Christ-followers, are sometimes like that. Though formerly sinners, we have now been given freedom from the dominion of sin in our lives because of Jesus death and resurrection.  Romans 6: 5-7 says that,

“If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”

Basically, because Christ died for us, and for our sin, sin has no right to our lives anymore—we are freed from it’s control.  Like the scripture states, we are “no longer..slaves to sin”.  And because Christ rose again, through His life (resurrection) we receive power.  It is this power that enables us to say no to sin. 

But sometimes we still live like sin is our master. 

We do this because in our old life, we were controlled by sin.  Sin is our default and it comes naturally to us.  Sin is built into us, just like claw sharpening is built into Sasha.

And, like Sasha, sometimes we still act like sin’s claws control us-- even though the claws have been removed.  We do this because we don’t fully understand that we have been freed—so we act like slaves—slaves to wickedness.

And sometimes we continue to be controlled by sinful behaviors because old habits die hard.  And because they die hard, we don’t really believe that God is strong enough to help us “do all things through Christ who strengthens us” (Philippians 4:13).  We don’t fully understand that we can now be slaves to righteousness.

When we, as Christ-followers choose to live in sin, we are telling God that His plan—the sending of His Son, the suffering of His Son, the crucifixion of Son, the separation of His Son from Himself—was not the ultimate sacrifice…that it doesn’t impute His power to us…that it’s really not enough to overcome our impure habits…and that we’d really rather just remain as we are.  When we call ourselves Christians, yet choose to be overcome by sinful behaviors and thoughts, we are telling God that He is not enough.

But He is enough. 

And his grace is enough.  Because we have been freed from our old selves and have been made new in Christ.  Sin no longer has mastery over us.

It’s true.

The claws have been removed. Sin no longer wins.

Let’s live like it.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

Romans 6:15-18



Saturday, December 1, 2012

While you’re waiting…

OK.  So I’ve written nothing serious for nearly a month now…well, the Psalm on Thanksgiving was serious, but I didn’t write that, I just posted it; someone else wrote that.  I think his name was David.  And I’ve not posted anything for over a week, so I decided I better get busy writing so y’all won’t abandon me on account of my lackluster appearances.  Give me another day or so, though, to let my brain marinate some ideas, and I’ll come up with something to charm your socks off.  However, while you’re waiting, and since we start December TODAY, I thought it wise to re-post something I wrote on December 1st last year.  It seriously helped me to enjoy the season more.  Maybe you need to write your own Christmas “To Not Do.”  Check it out:

“With all the hullabaloo at this time of year, and the pressure to achieve that “perfect Christmas”, I have decided to rebel. Buying presents, decorating the house, making goodies, and entertaining others are all good things, but sometimes my December “To Do” list can get very long…and stressful.  And if you remember correctly, I am not getting stressed this year.  So, here’s my rogue (that’s rogue—as in Sarah Palin, not rouge—as in color for my cheeks) plan:  I  have decided to write myself a “To Not Do” list. Nothing on this list is bad, but the experiences that I am choosing instead, like watching old family movies or reading Christmas stories to my kids, are better.  In fact, this year, I’m going to bypass some really great things so that I have time to do the best things.  Here goes:”

Christmas TO NOT DO list

  • I will not stress myself out to make Lefse. I will just go to Story City, where all Lefse-makers live, and buy it.
  • I will not worry about making the contents of the children’s stockings equal.
  • I will not host holiday parties when I don’t enjoy it.
  • I will not stay up all hours of the night creating something complex and homemade in my sewing room just so I can say “I made it.”
  • I will not force myself to put the decoration boxes in the storage room when no one can see them in the porch.
  • I will not feel compelled to write numerous blog posts explaining the true meaning of Christmas.
  • I will not write something personal on each and every Christmas card.
  • I will not feel compelled to send an extra Christmas card to those people to whom we didn’t send one when I get their card in the mail.
  • I will not feel compelled to have homemade peanut butter cookies with Hershey kisses on top in my freezer.
  • I will not make a gingerbread house.
  • I will not use holiday placemats.
  • I will not go out and buy more Christmas paper if ours runs out.  I will just use the ugly peach stuff I bought for the school fundraiser.
  • I will not clean my house every Monday if I want to do Christmas stuff.
  • I will not force my family to listen to “Read Aloud Family Christmas” every night after dinner.
  • I will not grieve that no one in my house wants to do the count-to-Christmas calendar anymore.
  • I will not force myself to learn Spanish or learn how to knit.
  • I will not get mad at myself if I want to sit in my polka-dotted chair and drink tea and read other people’s blogs.
  • I will not force my children or any other member of my family to unnecessarily clean their rooms, or their closets, or the kitchen, or the cat’s house, or the porch, or the garage. Even if I have company coming over who I don’t really need to impress with my immaculate cleanliness anyways.
  • Actually, Tess hacked my blog and wrote that last one, but I will abide by it.

Ahhhhh.  I feel so relaxed.  Isn’t Christmas grand?