Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Favourite Christmas Greeting/DONNA MANN

I’m enjoying some down time in a busy, festive, holy time of Christmas and the upcoming new year. Doug and I had the usual visiting among our family and friends, along with Christmas church services and a couple of concerts. In greeting people on the street, in the grocery store or library, I heard a myriad of greetings from Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and I hope you have a great Christmas season with family and friends. The last greeting took the longest to say, but to me it was the most meaningful. So it’s the one I used whenever I meet someone.

Sometimes people will say, “How are you doing?” and they’re gone before you begin to tell them about your sciatica or your broken glasses. When someone asks me that question, I sometimes want to say “Do you have a half hour?” but I somehow think they wouldn’t hang around that long.

I’ve written about this before, but every year I think I have a little more insight about the topic.
·      John and Mary go to the local dance and the evening gets merrier for John every time he passes the bar.
·      Another John and Mary spent three nights in critical care with their year old daughter over Christmas and have since had her funeral. They don’t want to hear the word merry, or happy.

My mother died on December 11th, 1983 and a few people said, “Your Christmas will be different this year.” Or “I hope you can find Christmas in the midst of your grief.” I appreciated those remarks. Some people didn’t know what to say, so they said words like, “She made it in time for Jesus’ birthday party.” Although the later statement may be true, the first two ministered to me.

Everyone has to search his or her own consciousness on this one. Does one size fit all? I can never assume people I see in the mall, on the street or at the gas station have the kind of employment, health or lifestyle where their Christmas can be merry? Yes, I hope the homeless, poor or terminally will have a merry Christmas, but can I assume?

And if any of them have had the merriest Christmas they’ve ever had in their lifetime, maybe taking time to learn about them is the key. Although the scripture below is not teaching about a Christmas greeting, forgive me if I take it out of context to share these specific words: “. . . So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind . . .”  (I Thess 5:11)


http:www.donnamann.org - The Agnes Macphail series, A Rare Find, 21 Promises: Honouring Self in Grief, WinterGrief, Little Red Barn Children’s Stories, Small Membership Churches, etc.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

No Gravy For Christmas - Tracy Krauss

The kitchen was filled with the wonderful smells of Christmas dinner. My daughters were bustling about getting the food on the table while my husband finished carving the turkey. I was busy stirring the gravy. It had thickened beautifully and was a nice golden colour. All it needed was a bit of seasoning. As the good natured banter flew about the room, I reached for the salt shaker, undid the cap and began to shake... and dumped the entire contents into the gravy!

Why would anyone undo the cap on the salt shaker? This was the million dollar question for which I had no answer. It was just one of those absent minded things. One little mistake that ruined the whole batch. We ate our Christmas dinner minus the gravy this year.

Although the incident didn't ruin Christmas entirely, I was quite upset that I had done such a silly, absent minded thing. The family were all very forgiving, even though I felt terrible. In the end, we enjoyed the meal and the rest of the festivities continued, gravy or no gravy.

It reminded me of life in general. Sometimes we mess up and no amount of apologizing will change the consequences of our actions. Yet, God in his love and forgiveness, helps us carry on and things usually turn out in the end. I hope that you have had a good year - mishaps and all - and can look back with reassurance that God is in control.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Vacancy by Carolyn Arends

Today I'd like to offer a song for anyone who is having a little trouble entering into the Christmas spirit this year. The important thing to remember about Advent is that is a season for longing, for waiting, and for recognizing that we need redemption from our current condition. So if you're feeling any of those things, you're doing it right! Happy Advent ...

Friday, December 18, 2015

5 Smart Things You Can Do-by Heidi McLaughlin

Remember the days of Christmas tinsel? Many young uns put tinsel in the same category as the olden days of VHS and Pac Man. But tinsel holds a special place in my heart. In our home the execution of tinsel was the flagship of Christmas because the end result was a sparkly and magnificent tree.  No more than three or four strands on the end of each branch, and if you don’t have the patience for that; well then go and finish your apple cider.
            But we had a dog. A big dog named Brutus!  I can’t recall the many times we came home from an event to find our magnificent tree on the floor. A tangled mess of bulbs, candy canes, lights and oh the tangled tinsel. Trying to untangle tinsel left our family frustrated and snapping at each other.  “Who left the dog on the house anyway?” “Who is going to clean up this mess?” “Come on you guys, everyone has to help!” I’m finally grateful that generation outgrew tinsel, but now we have other Christmas frustrations: busyness, distractions, expectations and perhaps disappointment and sadness.  I believe over the last number of years we have lost our way to what Christmas is all about. What can we do to uphold the sanctity and beauty of this blessed season? None of us want a tangled mess so here are 5 smart things we can all do for a superb Christmas.

1.         Be different. Years ago I broke status quo and stopped sending Christmas letters. Instead, I do a Valentines letter and stay in touch with people throughout the year. Also, when Jack and I go away at Christmas we don’t decorate the house. No decorations! Nothing, nada, nichts.

2.         Lower your expectations.  That sounds negative but in fact it’s very freeing.  Think about this.  In the 1950’s and 1960’s most people didn’t decorate their homes or put up a tree until about two weeks before Christmas.  We have 23 days in the month of December to shop, decorate, send cards, entertain, attend banquets, bake ten different things, concerts, theatre productions, Christmas lunches, dinner and more.  It’s impossible to do everything Pinterest style. So pick your favourites and let the rest go.

3.         Reduce your gift list. Please let’s be honest. None of us need anything.  So why do we agonize and spend money on something that will end up in someone’ closet, drawer or garage?  Most likely they will want the sales slip so that they can exchange it because it “wasn’t the right thing or size.” Showing an act of kindness or a personalized card will have more lasting meaning and express your love.

4.         Rehearse a good story.  Christmas means spending time with people that have the potential to frustrate and make you angry and ruin your perfect holiday. The Bible tells us to: “Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right” (Philippians 4:8 NLT). Set your mind on showing and expressing love in spite of what happens.  But you need to prepare your mind and rehearse your story.  Christ came into the world to show us how to love, and Christmas is the perfect time to put that love into action.

5.         Pursue contentment and joy.  If you make a deliberate choice to enjoy the Christmas season, your actions will follow. For years I prayed for contentment and asked God to help me simplify Christmas. I wanted to experience the JOY that Christ came to give us. When Christ was born the angels sang out: “Peace on earth and goodwill toward all men.”  But this doesn’t just happen we need to pursue it.

            I know we all want the kind of Christmas that will give us precious memories for years to come. If we keep Christmas simple the pictures will be beautiful and there won’t be any messes to untangle.
     Heidi McLaughlin lives in the beautiful vineyards of the Okanagan Valley in Kelowna, British Columbia. She is married to Pastor Jack and they have a wonderful, eclectic blended family of 5 children and 9 grandchildren. When Heidi is not working, she loves to curl up with a great book, or golf and laugh with her husband and special friends. You can reach her at: www.heartconnection.ca

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Which of God's name do you need today? Susan Harris

Isaiah 9:6 - For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (NIV)

Over the Christmas season we sing many hymns that adore the Lord. When we are adoring His names and  His person we are engaging in praise. Praise is verbal adoration that honours God and we are called to pray through praise. When we begin our prayer with adoration, we unselfishly place the focus on God (and not on ourselves by “asking” right away). 

Which of God's names are  most meaningful to you. Which name or names of God do you need to draw from today? (A free online concordance is available at  http://www.biblestudytools.com/concordances/).

Prayer Starter - Your name, Jesus, saves me from my sins. You are the Wonderful Counsellor who I can turn to when I need advice and guidance. You are Mighty God, strong, powerful and dependable, and I am so relieved that I can turn to you in my weakness. You are the Everlasting Father, there is no end in you. You are my eternal Father, caregiver and provider…..

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Blissful Joy by Ruth Smith Meyer

This week brought me moments of exceptional satisfaction and deep warmth that are difficult to describe.  I thought of the time when I was asked to list the things that would bring me bliss. Yes, that may be the word, but I couldn’t decide whether to call my feelings bliss, or joy, so I looked up the definitions for both.

Bliss:  supreme happiness; utter joy or contentment

Joy: the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.

Bliss seems to almost be unearthly—and there was an element of that.  Joy is quiet earthy but didn’t quite encompass all I wanted to say. I came to the conclusion that I needed to use both.  I decided to share with you that I experienced blissful joy this week.

We all have different things in our lives that bring us deep joy and satisfaction, but often they are such different activities that they can’t easily be combined.  For example you may find a lot of enjoyment in both running marathons and baking, but those two can’t be enjoyed at the same time. As writers, each one of us could name some things we love to do, but they interfere with the quiet solitude and extended time we need to do meaningful writing.

In the past year, though my loves of writing and singing were wonderfully blended when I sorted through the beautiful music our choir has sung over the years.  I chose the theme, “God so loved the world.” Who could have put that together better than John Stainer in his beautiful rendition of that Bible truth? 

The first line introduced the theme then came as a reprise several times throughout the different songs that had become precious to the choir. The truth and depth of God’s love became more and more apparent so that each time those first lines were repeated, the message was driven deeper into my heart as I kept compiling the cantata.

 I decided that the full rendition of God so Loved the World would be a fitting ending, but by the time I hummed through the song, I knew that I needed to voice a response to God’s love and I added “Alleluiah”  by Jay Althouse and thought it fitting to allow the congregation to share in their personal response too, by singing Joy to the World.

That was the singing part—then I began to write narration, trying to put into words my inner feelings about the Christmas story as expressed in the songs I had chosen. As always with my writing, it’s a joy to find words to adequately communicate what I’m trying to convey.  I wanted to articulate not only the historic facts of the birth of Christ, but the love that can come to our world today, that can be born in our hearts if we allow room in our inner sanctums for Jesus' presence to enter there.

In the past two months a community choir has been practicing the finished product.  Along the way, there were heard remarks about the beauty of the words and music. As always when rehearsing different parts to master the more difficult ones and catch the glitches that happen in any collection, we sometimes wondered if it was going to come together. 

Last Monday night, the narrators were there to do their part, and the effect began to be felt. Friday night, the night of our concert, people began coming early, sitting in quiet anticipation.  The overhead lights were slightly dimmed, the twinkling white lights shone from the evergreen swags and grapevine trees. The congregation and choir joined in Silent Night, the choir introduced the theme with the first two lines of God so Loved the World, and the narrators reflected God’s love and desire to be in relationship, in the warmth of their words. The director, the pianist and the flautist as well as the soloists, and choir built on the theme, making it real to the participants and the listeners.  It was even reported that there were some wiping tears from their eyes.  Many comments were made at the language being so every-day so the meaning came through that the message was applicable to the here and now.

As I lay in bed that night until sleep came, I became aware of the the gifts God gives.  We don’t always know how it will turn out and if anyone else will benefit, but when others are blessed, we get to feel a part of something far bigger than ourselves and we stand in amazement and awe.

I pray that each of you may find joy in giving and sharing what God has given you, and that you, too, will be participants in God’s plan. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

As much alike as we are different—Carolyn R. Wilker

In our mailbox Tuesday was a Christmas card from an Amish school friend named Rachel. It’s hard to believe after so many years ago in our one room school house that we would one day be corresponding again, but thanks to another friend, Gayleen, we were reconnected years later.
I opened the card from Rachel first. It’s probably been close to a year since I'd last heard from her. Summer is a busy time on an Amish farm—on any farm really—and especially with doing things in a more labour intensive way without hydro. Her lifestyle is so different from mine, but the friendship remains. The card message said: “May our world be filled with Peace this holiday season” and then a personal note to me in her handwriting.
About fifteen years ago, Gayleen, whom I had known since childhood, planned a visit to see Rachel on her farm and wondered if I’d like to come along. After all, I knew most of the Amish children who went to our school. The visit to her clean and neat home and surroundings helped to rekindle that relationship. I was grateful to be included. 
What do you give as a hostess gift to an Amish friend who writes? Letter stationery, of course.  I wrote a note, thanking her for her hospitality and the opportunity of meeting three of her grandchildren.  She wrote back again in the fall when the farm work slowed, thus I had her address when Gayleen became very ill a few years ago.
I wrote to Rachel each week and kept her up-to-date on Gayleen’s condition. I knew Rachel would want to be informed and that she would be praying too.
When Gayleen died, I was in mourning. Here was a friend I had known all my life, as children, as adults and parents. We'd shared prayer concerns and our faith too and she had been at my book event in our home town.
Winter weather or not, I had to get word to Rachel. Would she make it to the funeral all those miles in horse and buggy, or might she hire a driver to take her? It would be her call. A letter would not make it there in time, and so I brainstormed with a friend and came up with a plan.
I called the farm supply store in the nearby town to see if they had any business dealings with Rachel and her husband. I said it was important to reach Rachel and why. Bless the woman’s heart, she went through her sales list and gave me the name and contact information of a neighbour who lived down the same road.
I’d followed up and introduced myself to Rene, who promised to pass along the message. I gave him the details of the funeral and visitation. He asked, “Did I know that her husband had been unwell.” Yes, I knew. A winter storm prevented him from getting there that day, he said; he barely made it home from town in such a storm. I thanked him and left the message in his and God’s hands to make it happen and I hoped that Rachel might still find a way to come.
Rachel’s letter arrived only days after our friend’s funeral saying she’d wanted to come, but winter storms and her husband’s frail health prevented her. She would have hired a driver except she had no back-up care for Ed. She thanked me for my letters, and in her letter commended Gayleen to God.
And so this short letter, inside the card, this week began,
Dear friend, Just a few lines of Christmas cheer and may you all have had a good year.

Rachel wrote that she’d been in touch with Lydia, another of the Amish girls who had been a special friend of mine during those school days, and told me that she had sent my book to Lydia. I was excited to hear that Sherrill had sent a copy to Rachel and that it was being passed along.
Perhaps Lydia and I can re-connect too, I thought. It would depend on how Lydia feels about my school house memories, with them included, and if she wishes to re-establish our connection after so many years.
The note continued with news of Rachel’s husband regaining some movement but still confined to a wheelchair, and she told me about Ed’s sister dying of cancer. Rachel closed her note with these words:
Life changes every year, we must live close to God who is unchanging. May you know him this Christmas season.
Love, Rachel.

 I found the perfect card and got it in the mail the next day, along with a hand-written note. She may live a different lifestyle, much more restricted than my own, but she believes in God too. We have things in common. Not surprising really since we’re all human and God’s children. I’m thankful for my Amish friends.

 Carolyn R. Wilker is an author, editor and storyteller from southwestern Ontario. Sign up for her newsletter, FineTuned, about writing. She's on Facebook too.

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