Monday, December 31, 2012

This Was Christmas

Today is New Year's Eve and I am still thinking of Christmas. I had a lovely Christmas, beginning with Christmas Eve. I made a dinner that was easy to prepare ahead of time, leaving the main dish simmering in the oven while Chad, Megan, and I went to the Christmas Eve service at church. Anne Marie was still in too much post-surgery discomfort to go out. The service was great--I love Christmas Eve services--and we had a full house.
Megan on Christmas Eve wearing a hat and
scarf she made.

A church project was to take plates of cookies to places around town where people were having to work on the holiday--hospital, hospice, nursing homes, mini-marts, the ambulance (EMS) base, etc. I had signed up to bake some of the cookies, which made a nice project for Megan and me. I don't know how many cookies were donated altogether, but there were a lot. A team prepared individual containers of cookies for the list of places that had been suggested as recipients. After the Christmas Eve service, volunteers took the cookies to assigned locations. I know Chad got a big hug at Hospice when he dropped the cookies off there, and I am sure they were appreciated in all the other places they were delivered.

We came home after cookie delivery to eat our Christmas dinner, joined by friend Gwen. A most satisfying day.

Megan modeling her new Angry Birds
footy pajamas
Christmas day was relaxed and slow, as we did nothing in a hurry. Anne Marie baked a brunch casserole, then she and Chad joined Megan and I upstairs in my house. (My home is the designated site for the Christmas tree and gifts--I have a corner it fits in and I don't have five dogs and two cats!) We had a good time opening gifts. We do it by Stockings first (yes, everybody gets a stocking), then we take turns opening our individual gifts. That way we enjoy seeing what everyone got, with thank-yous along the way. Megan stopped now and again to try on various garments she received!

It was almost 1 p.m. by the time we got to our breakfast/brunch casserole and were hungry enough to really enjoy it! After Birdies went home, I relaxed and played Christmas music. What a lovely day!
Megan slicing the casserole, known in their family as "Breakfast Bricks." She is wearing another Christmas gift--
her Captain America T-shirt.

The only downer to me about Christmas being over is that I wasn't tired of playing my Christmas music yet! So I was tickled yesterday when I looked at the church bulletin and saw that all the hymns for the day were Christmas songs. I love that Christmas wasn't just swept away as soon as December 25 was past.

And, now, I wish you all the best as we move forward into 2013. Whatever it brings, it joys and its difficulties, we will walk through it with the knowledge that Immanuel, God With Us, still lives and is still with us.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Shortest Day of the Year

Hooray! Today is the shortest day of the year!

Why am I so happy about it. you ask?

Do I, like the ancients, give some special religious significance to it?

Do I like short, dimly-lighted days and long, dark nights?

No, no, no.

I love knowing that for the next six months every day will have a little more sunshine and little less night.

I love the light!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Remembering Mother

My mother, who never wanted to impose on or be a bother to other people, passed from this life quietly and with minimum fuss and bother two years ago. I will always miss her, but realize how blessed I was to have my mother in my life for 69.5 years. I still have those instant impulses to tell her something, ask her something, or show her something. Then, as quickly, comes the realization that I can't.

The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, trying to explain the reality of resurrection, wrote that our body is "sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body."

By the time of her death, our mother's tall, strong body had become shrunken, weak, and painful. But her spirit never faltered, her personality and mind remained strong. Up until the last day of her life she worked the Cryptoquote and Crossword puzzles in the daily newspaper. She was an avid follower of the news on television. Though she wondered why God had let her live so long, she still looked forward, thought about what she would like planted in her yard, and was making a list of who she thought might be good candidates in the next election. She was working on her Christmas cards up until the last day, and had sent many out. Even though her body was giving out, she lived life and did not just fold her hands and wait to die.

So, though I do not know the form of the spiritual body, I know our mother has one. I know it is strong and glorious as the Scripture promises. I know she is still herself. I know I will see her again.

My personal memories of my mother cover her life from age 25 to almost 95 (well, the first two years of that I "remember" from photos, being in my infancy). I see her in my mind most often in the strength of her prime.

I've started going through my personal photo books and scanning some of the photos with Mother. The old color photos lack a good deal in quality, and some have faded, so I'm doing what I can to save them. Some of them apparently were printed in sub-quality inks and have faded to purple. Those I have changed to black and white. I have a long way to go on this project, but will share some of what I have with you, hoping that you who are family will see some photos you haven't seen before.

Here are a few photos of her life.
Rose and her sister Elsie, 1967
1976-Rose at the Scottsbuff zoo
1976-Rose and Red at Holberts with 40th Anniversary cake (David Holbert in foregraound)

1981-Rose and Red with 45th Anniversary cake

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

He's Coming

On the first Sunday of the Advent season, pieces of purple ribbon were distributed to the congregation at the end of the worship service. They were to serve as reminders of the coming of Jesus. We were asked to use the ribbons in some way that we would be frequently reminded of the Advent.

I tied my ribbon around the knob on one of my kitchen cupboard doors. I am in that area many times a day, so I am reminded many times a day.

When I look at that little piece of ribbon, I say to myself, "Jesus is coming." This phrase reminds me not only of the first advent of Jesus, which we are celebrating in this season, but of an advent promised but which we are still waiting for.

And that reminds me of a little piece of Christian humor  hanging over the worktable in my son-in-law's garage.

Yes, Christians usually have great senses of humor!

Monday, December 17, 2012


I am grateful today. My daughter, Anne Marie, had gall bladder surgery this morning. She is home and doing well. I am still amazed that a gall bladder can be removed and within two hours the patient is sent home! When I was young gall bladder removal would have involved a huge incision and a 10-day stay in the hospital. I am so glad for the improvements in surgical techniques that cause so much less damage to the body and make healing happen so much faster. It is still a big deal, but much easier on the patient than in the past.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Answers to the Christmas Quiz

The craft-set Nativity Scene finished by Megan several years ago.

If anyone reading this has not read yesterday's post, STOP READING.

Now go to yesterday's post and take the quick little quiz there. Then come back here for the answers.

Now, for the answers. The key to understanding the answers is that, as stated yesterday, this is a Bible quiz. Only the things that are clearly stated in the Bible will count as True answers.

1.  False. We all so clearly see in our mind's eye the picture of Mary riding on a donkey. There is no donkey mentioned in the Bible. In fact, Luke 2:4,5 simply says they "went" from Nazareth to Bethlehem. (My guess is they walked, which would probably be more comfortable for a pregnant girl than a donkey ride.)

2.  False.  The manger was Jesus' first bed, but not where he was born. (The Bible doesn't even mention a stable, barn, or cave--just the manger, which is a feed trough for animals.)

3 .False.  Luke 2:9-14. The first angel "said" his message, then a multitude of angels joined him "saying". . . . (Of course there could have been music, but it simply isn't mentioned.)

4.  False.  No date is mentioned in the Bible. In fact, there is no mention in the Bible of early Christians celebrating the birth of Jesus. The closest we can come is from the references to Caesar Augustus in Luke and to Herod the king in Matthew. From known dates of their rules, scholars have estimated the birth of Jesus to have fallen between 7 and 4 B.C. They guess his birth was probably in the spring due to the reference of the shepherds being out with the sheep at night.

5.  False.  All the Bible (in Matthew 2:1) tells us about the wise men is that they came from the East. Three gifts are mentioned, but not the number of wise men. The names come from fiction stories.

6.  False.  The Bible tells us the wise men "came" and they "departed." How they traveled is not stated; could have been camels, or horses, or wagons drawn by some animal, or donkeys, or on foot. But we will always associate the wise men with camels because of all the paintings we have seen with camels. And the wise men and shepherds could not have been together at the manger. The shepherds were sent there by the angel on the day Jesus was born. The wise men traveled from "the east," and by the time they reached Bethlehem Jesus was no longer referred to as a "babe" but as a "young child" and the family was living in a house (Matthew 2:9-11). But, I still put them all in my Nativity set, because it is representational of the whole advent story, not because it is historically accurate!

7.  False.  The little drummer boy is a figment of song and story, but not from the Bible. But we like him anyway!

All of these myths, misunderstandings, and misconceptions are deeply planted in our minds by the popular represetations we have seen and heard all our lives. They are harmless, not damaging to our faith, but it is good to know the reality of the Bible account .

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Christmas Pop Quiz

I sometimes use Pop Quizzes in teaching Sunday School. They work surprisingly well on both a fun and an instructional level. With Christmas coming up, last Sunday I used a quiz I have used a few times over the years. Maybe you will enjoy taking it too.

It is a simple True or False Bible quiz.

1.  Mary rode a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

2.  Jesus was born in a manger.

3.  A band of angels sang a song for the shepherds.

4.  Jesus was born December 25th in the year 0.

5.  There were three wise men, named Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar.

6.  The wise men left their camels outside and joined the shepherds in the stable to 
     worship the newborn Jesus.
7.  The little drummer boy was crippled.
I'll give you the answers tomorrow. And remember, as I always tell my classes, you can't fail Sunday School!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Through the Years

Just a bit of background. My home is located above an oversized three-car garage. The entrance to my home is an enclosed stairway consisting of seventeen steps. The walls and ceiling are painted white, the carpet is light brown. It is really very blah!

For a couple of Christmases my granddaughter and I decorated the stairway with some garland and ornaments. Two years ago I had a new idea. I went through my photo albums and found pictures from Christmases through the years, which I scanned into my computer. I enlarged and printed the photos. Then I took standard letter-size card stock and wrapped sheets of it with a variety of Christmas wrapping paper. I mounted the photos on these and added a loop of ribbon at the top. I used push pins to hang the photos down both sides of the stairway to add some Christmas brightness to that drab space.

After Christmas, I took down the photos and boxed them up until the next year. With the pictures gone, the stairway was once again totally blah.

Last year I again put up the Christmas photos. But after Christmas I just decided to leave them up until I decided what to do to make the stairway more pleasant and welcoming on a permanent basis. So the stairs were ready for Christmas this year, because I haven't yet come up with something better. (But I'm thinking about it!)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Cousin I Never Knew

A few days ago our local paper carried an obituary for a young man (38) named Jeremy Sleep. I did not know this young man. I had never met him. But his mother and grandmother were named in the obituary, and I did know them. His mother is my first cousin. Her father and my mother were siblings, but our families lived in different towns. My mother's family had numerous get-togethers over the years, so I knew all my first cousins, though there was not opportunity to become really close to most of them--I had 20 first cousins on that side of the family, plus some second and third cousins that were part of the family gatherings.

Age-wise I fell in the middle of this large group, and I was the only one. There was a group of older cousins, lots of younger cousins, and me in the middle. So I took on the role of watching over and entertaining the younger group. Some, though, were so much younger that I did not get to know them well before I grew up and left home. My cousin Doris, Jeremy's mother, was one of this younger group. It has been years since I have seen her, but, nonetheless, feel very saddened by her loss.

The photo in the obituary paints very clearly for me the kinship of family. The young man bears a very strong resemblance to his maternal grandfather, my uncle, and to my grandmother, his great-grandmother.

While I cannot grieve for young Jeremy as I would if I actually knew him, yet I know his family is grieving terribly. I feel sorrow for them. Such a loss is more than words can express.

It is not possible to keep up with and have close personal ties to all of a family that has spread out as large as the descendants of my grandparents has. But I look at the little photo in the newspaper and I feel the pull of that genetic tie--I see family in his face.

There is another thing that increases the sense of poignancy to me. I, too, have a son named Jeremy, who is 39 years old.

Although I never knew their Jeremy, I am so sad for his family.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Getting in the Mood for Christmas

As December approached I realized that my head was not at all in the Christmas season. It was just coming too fast! How could it be the holiday season already?

Thanksgiving came, and was a lovely day. OK, I was starting to feel the season a tiny bit.
2004--Megan with the Nativity mural she made for our house.

When I had young children, it was impossible to miss the anticipation and excitement of Christmas. Now, I sometimes need a little help. So, I made a plan of sorts to get me in the proper mood for Christmas. I did not want to be dragged kicking and whining into seasonal preparations. I did not want to miss the Spirit of it all. I did not want the blahs to own the day!

My plan was simple. I'd listen to Christmas music, which I have always loved and of which I have a fair collection. I would watch lots of those sweet and silly Christmas movies that proliferate each year (I've already seen several take-offs on Dickens' Christmas Carol). I'd bravely dive into gift buying, even though I hadn't a clue as to what to get for most of my list.

And you know what? It is beginning to feel more and more like Christmas. The tree is up, the gifts I ordered have begun to arrive, and, yes, I am still watching sappy movies. They make me feel good, even though those New York and Hollywood writers haven't the faintest notion what life is really like in a small town. I wonder if any of them have ever lived in a small town! Perhaps their versions of small town life is just what we would all wish it were like. Even so, they put me in a much better mood than the news shows I usually watch and which are definitely not full of holiday cheer. I don't deny reality--but there is more to reality than just the grim stuff. And right now, I am choosing to escape to the bright side!

Tonight I will get our old Nativity Scene figures down from the top of the closet and put them out. It won't be Christmas without them!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Lovely Lady at 95

My mother-in-law turned 95 years old this year. Her children wanted to celebrate the occasion, but could not all get together on September 6 (her son, Bud, lives in Washington state).

Emma Brisendine Russell Wales
So they had three separate celebrations! The first was in July when Bud and his wife, Karen, could come to Colorado. What family could do so gathered together at that time and had an early birthday party.

The second celebration was held on her actual birthday at the care facility where she now lives.

The third celebration was held on September 9 at the apartment complex where she lived until recently, so she could be with her friends there, and friends from the area and her church came to the reception and had such a good time that it ran much longer than the scheduled time!

It seems to me that attaining the age of 95 is definitely worth three celebrations. In addition to these events, her daughters planned a card shower for her. She received over 70 cards from friends and family. We are scattered over many states, and most of us could not visit her in person, so the card shower was a great idea for letting her know that she is remembered and loved by so many people whose lives she has touched.

My sister-in-law, Jeannie, recently sent me photos of the occasions.

We should all look so good at 95!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What You Can Put In A Shoebox

This morning I am listening to wonderful Christmas music by Mannheim Steamroller, a long-time favorite of mine. While my Christmas spirit grows, I can report that I have at least half my Christmas shopping done.

My first gift completed was for the Shoebox program that many churches in our town participate in. In this program you choose to shop for a boy or girl within a specific age range. You fill a shoebox (or special shoebox-sized boxes that are supplied) with as many gifts as you can stuff in. The gifts are shipped to a central location, where they are distributed in many locations around the world and in the U.S. It is amazing how much can be crammed into a shoebox! The project recommends providing both practical and fun elements in the box. It is fun to shop for the shoebox, even though you don't know where it will go or who will receive it. I chose to shop for a girl in the 10-14 year age range. Here's what I managed to cram into one shoebox:
     a tee shirt
     four pairs of colorful socks
     four pairs of cotton colorful panties
     a package of ballpoint pens
     a package of mechanical pencils
     a package of colored pencils
     a small soft-cover diary-sized blank book
     a pad of unlined writing/drawing paper
     a 2-pack of glue sticks
     a sewing kit with needles and a variety of small spools of thread
     a package of Juicy Fruit gum
     a pack of candy of a type that doesn't melt
     a small paperback copy of the Gospel of John

Churches in our smalll town packed 1,458 shoeboxes, exceeding the goal set at the beginning of the project! These gifts are a witness of the love of God, the birth of Christ, and Christian sharing wherever they go in the world. We will never know what effect these gifts of love will have. We trust that God will see them to the right recipient. We rejoice that we are able to be part of this great project. I am in awe of the people who conceived the idea, did the hard work of organizing it, collecting the gifts, and shipping and distributing them. It is a massive undertaking that I am sure grows each year.

God is not outmoded. Christ is still alive. Christian people are still doing what govenments can't. Unselfish love and caring still bloom in the human heart.

Christmas reminds us of this each year.

Monday, December 3, 2012

It Was a Great Day

Occasionally a day comes along where everything just fits together in a way most satisfying mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Yesterday was such a day.

I don't mean that outwardly it would appear to anyone else that I was having a special day. It looked like any other Sunday. Went to church, came home, had lunch, spent time with my granddaughter; nice, but ordinary. However, to me, it was more than that.

I know it is not possible to really convey the emotional and spiritual impact of any event--these are highly personal and individual responses. But everything at church yesterday just clicked together for a most satisfying whole. On the first Sunday of each month we have a breakfast with a devotional from the pastor in what is usually the Sunday School hour. Good company, good food, and a good talk on the Vine and Branches from the Gospel of John.

After the breakfast I went upstairs to the sanctuary, which was practically empty, as it was still twenty minutes or so before the worship service was to begin. The foyer and sanctuary had been decorated for Christmas. It was quiet and so beautiful! As people began to come in and take seats, a family sat down in the row behind me. I turned around to say hello, and met a lovely lady I had a nice visit with. She is quite elderly (which means she might be a few years older than me!), with white hair and a sweet face and expression you would imagine for Mrs. Santa Claus. I found out she had been writing devotions for The Secret Place devotional magazine for twenty years, and before that for another publication. I had just picked up this quarter's devotional, but she told me none of her pieces were in it. But from now on I'll be looking for her name. Because of health problems she doesn't get to church very often, but my day was enriched by meeting her.

The music was so good, and we got to sing Christmas songs. Usually we just have the piano, which I love. The church has a baby grand which sounds so good it soothes my soul. Yesterday the piano was accompanied by a violin and guitars, and there was a new sound system that improved greatly over the old and glitchy one. The band sang, the congregation sang, the instruments added depth to the music; the advent candle was lit after a short, appropriate reading, the sermon about what the discovery of Mary's pregnancy would have meant from Joseph's perspective and how it would have affected them in their society was thoughtful and interesting.

Sometimes going to church becomes a duty thing; it feels like you have done the very same experience a thousand times and the mind wanders all over the place. Yesterday everything felt fresh and new and revitalizing for me. A special time.

After I got home I was planning to have a simple lunch of soup, homemade bread, and a glass of milk. I had my soup bowl out, and was starting to pick up the soup can to open it, when my door burst open and my granddaughter cried out, "Don't cook anything for lunch!" She had been to the store with her dad and came back with a frozen pizza and cheese sticks and wanted to share lunch with me. So that is what we did.

After lunch Megan and I decorated the Christmas tree and living room together. This has become our annual tradition. Later, while Megan worked on a new jigsaw puzzle I read aloud from the book we are now working on.

A sweet and satisfying day.