Category Archives: Christmas
Christmas trees, decorations, Christmas music, even in stores pushing the season earlier and earlier for their own purposes, all fill me with wonderful memories, anticipation and joy. I’ve learned over my eighty-two years, that what puts the focus on Christ at Christmas is my own hunger for his presence.
Advent is the traditional pre-Christmas season of preparing our hearts for his coming.
Those four weeks were arbitrarily set centuries ago to reflect the four thousand years that the world waited in darkness, longing for his coming. Many years ago, I began on the first Sunday of Advent to pray each day, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then I watch expectantly for him to become present in small, but recognizable ways in my heart and life.
And some years my heart and mind are actually attentive enough to recognize his coming.
One Christmas Eve, our children and grandchildren were all at our home, surrounded by the friendly reds and greens of Christmas and delicious smells teasing from the kitchen. In one bedroom, a grand-baby snuggled into sleep, while in others whispering parents wrapped and ribboned Santa secrets. Only Granddad was missing, out doing his traditional Christmas Eve shopping.
As excited older grandchildren were setting out to explore the woods and creek, I was making a clean up sweep through the holiday chaos. (Having ended up the “cleaner upper” by default, I was grumbling to myself a little.)
And one preschooler, too young for exploring and too old for a nap, went from room to room knocking on doors only to be told that he couldn’t come in. When I found little David sobbing forlornly in the middle of all the Christmas glitter, I decided to console him(and me) with an outing to feed the ducks that winter over on the lake in town.
When we arrived at the lake, the hungry ducks gobbled up our bread crusts so quickly
and ferociously, that we began to fear we would soon become part of their Christmas Eve
As we took refuge in the car, I heard our parish church bells ringing for the special Christmas Eve children’s service, The Mass of the Bells. Since the children get to sing all their favorite carols and even ring bells to celebrate the birth of Christ, it seemed like a Christmas serendipity for David. Looking at our faded jeans and muddy tennis shoes, I hesitated, but remembering the ragged shepherds at the first Christmas, I headed on to church anyway.
For lack of having his own bell, David rang my key chain as he sang with off key gusto. Then, as all the children gathered around our parish priest on the floor of the sanctuary to talk about the Christmas Story, David somehow managed to squirm all the way to the front of the group. When Father asked what happened when Mary and Joseph
knocked on the door of the Inn, David’s response rang out, “They wouldn’t let them in.”
Then, with a sudden rush of outraged feeling, he shouted louder, “They wouldn’t open the door!”
It seemed like he remembered his feelings about closed doors earlier at home and identified with the Holy Family.
And then when Father asked how they would respond to Jesus knocking at the door of their hearts right now, David sang out with conviction,
“Come in Jesus. Come right on in!”
On our way home, David joyfully assured me that even if others sometimes didn’t let children in, he and Jesus always would. At his own level he made the connection between his life and the Gospel story, even realizing that opening his heart to Jesus, also meant opening his heart to others.
And my heart was filled with the joy of Christmas, of seeing Jesus being born once more
in the heart of a child.
As a post script I’d like to share more about David. When he was a college junior he and several other college students took cold water and hamburgers down town in the Memphis August heat to share with the hungry and homeless. As they did this, one man asked for them to pray over him (David said that they needed God’s grace for that). But as they prayed, others began coming forward asking, not for money, or even food, but for prayer. Since then, David has taught in schools in Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Bolivia.
Whenever the stores start Christmas music, August or October, let it be our cue to start praying the prayer of our hearts, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”
One of my favorite stories is about psychologists doing a study of pessimists and optimists. They put a young pessimist in a room with every imaginable toy. At first he happily tried out each toy, but soon he sat down crying. When they asked him, didn’t he like the toys, he sniffled “Yes.” But when asked why he was crying, he said, “They are very nice, but I know they will break. Toys usually do. I don’t want to enjoy them and then lose them.”
In the meantime the young optimist was in a room with just horse manure. To their surprise he was happily digging through the pile of manure. When asked why he was so happy, he answered enthusiastically, “With this much manure, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”
I started 2017 with Lumbar Fusion Surgery followed by months of physical therapy, but still ending up in pain when bending and getting in and out of bed. All the bottom cabinets in our apartment are now pretty much unreachable for me. Since I’m short, the upper cabinets have always been out of reach, but now anything unbreakable is accessible with my new reacher. Though I’ve gotten fairly good at tilting things out with the reacher and catching them with my left hand, sometimes I start a chain reaction and all sorts of containers rain down on my head, the counter and the floor. As long as none break open, I just laugh and start over. However, the grits opening mid-air, provoked a different reaction. I’ll just leave it at that.
Shortly after surgery I awoke in the night unable to move my arms. I panicked thinking my arms were paralyzed, until I realized that the Velcro on my wrist braces for my carpal tunnel problem had locked onto the Velcro on my back brace. For a few minutes I thought I was going to have to wake Julian to help me, but I finally managed to get free. I think I did wake him with my laughter. Major blessings in the first several weeks of limited mobility and pain were Julian’s and all our family’s support and help and friends also brightening those days with tasty gifts of food. I felt very loved. And gained five pounds.
Some good news in April was that our Pulmonologist announced that my husband Julian’s Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis had not progressed. But then, he informed us that the scans had shown a tumor in his right lung. The biopsy showed cancer cells, so surgery was scheduled. It was a very scary time. Thankfully, it only took minimally invasive surgery to get all the cancer. So far, in each three month checkup, he is still cancer free. Another blessing in this was his surgeon, who is one of the most intelligent, funny, honest, humble, caring people we have ever met. I told her once that we admired her greatly, particularly because she didn’t think she was God. She laughed and said that she had figured that out pretty early in her life.
However, at the age of eighty-one Julian was now terribly frustrated by how slow his recovery was. Just fourteen years ago he had bounced back pretty quickly from heart surgery. And just as he was finally getting back to work on several architectural jobs, his heart went out of rhythm. So, back to the hospital we went for a Cardiac Ablation. Unfortunately, though the ablation seemed successful, for unknown reasons he began to hemorrhage profusely. The two nurses with him began to take emergency measures to staunch the bleeding, but he was losing consciousness. So, while one lowered the head of the bed to get oxygen to his brain, the other nurse (a tall good looking blonde named Amy) climbed up on the bed to be able to put enough pressure on the incision in his groin to stop the bleeding until the emergency equipment got there. About that time Julian regained consciousness and asked in surprise, “Amy, are you getting in bed with me?” (Hope springs eternal…)
The pressure equipment slowed the bleeding, but a vascular surgeon was called in to do exploratory surgery to see if an artery had been perforated. None could be found even with extensive exploration. So, though the original ablation incision was small, the exploratory one was quite long. Julian now continued to bleed from both surgical sites in the groin area, with the bleeding only very slowly becoming less profuse. A one day stay in the hospital turned into eleven days and he was still leaking fluid with some blood from both sites when they sent us home. I, an eighty year old klutz, who had just had two cataract surgeries in the ten days before this, and had numb fingers and no grip because of carpal tunnel syndrome, would now be bandaging and cutting off bandages on the two adjoining surgical sites about three times a day. Purely through the grace of God, I managed not to do him any further damage and after about another ten days the two sites no longer needed bandages. Julian never admitted to trepidation, but his sigh of relief was quite audible when we finally got to stop playing doctor.
This was now late October. Once again age took its toll and recovery was even slower. Julian lost all appetite, began sleeping excessively, and being untypically sad and even somewhat surly. So, the doctor gave him “cheer up” meds. Lo and behold, he became amazingly energetic, funny and now smiling with a wonderful sparkle in his eyes. We were both delighted. (I considered asking for a prescription for myself.) Unfortunately, he then didn’t shut his eyes for five days and five nights, so the doctor had to switch the meds. With physical therapy he slowly regained some strength once more and began to work again on his much overdue architecture projects.
Suddenly, his legs and feet began to swell and turn bright red. The diagnosis was cellulitis, so now he was again on antibiotics, steroids and having to try to work on his computer with his feet propped up above his heart. I took a photo of this rather hazardous acrobatic endeavor, but wasn’t quite mean enough to post it on face book or my blog. Well….not yet.
The next day he had a meeting to attend on one of his projects. By now, he couldn’t even get his well worn moccasin house shoes on, so I drove him to Walmart to buy some larger backless black house shoes. Since it was raining, he wore socks with plastic grocery bags over them. He put the new shoes on at the checkout counter, but since one foot was swollen less than the other, to keep that shoe on when he walked, he had to sort of shuffle his way out to the car. Well, at least they matched the color of his suit.
Then just as he was beginning to get back to a somewhat diminished “normal,” he developed a horrendous cough and began to have to fight to breathe. We feared the fibrosis had flared up, but it appeared to be an inflammation, possibly because of drastic weather changes and a cold. Back on steroids and antibiotics again. Exhausted by fighting to breathe, he ended up bedridden for several weeks and once more with swollen feet. An unexpected blessing was a recently bought new sofa that was perfect for sleeping with elevated feet on wedges our Steve ordered. He slept there day and night with the remote to control the TV and a view of a flock of cardinals that hang out at the birdfeeders outside the French doors.
Slowly he began once more getting some strength back. But, suddenly while working quietly in his office in our apartment, he was almost paralyzed by extreme pain in his chest that radiated up into his jaw. I got him to the hospital in four minutes. It would have taken the ambulance that long to get to us. Eventually, as they were running tests, the pain subsided and the tests looked okay, but they kept him over night for an echo cardiogram. While waiting for a room, we did our usual survival by humor routine and one of the nurses asked, “You do realize this is an emergency?” We just laughed and said, “We’ve had so many medical emergencies in the last couple of years, we’ve decided that humor is the best survival medicine.”
His heart didn’t show any damage, so he got to go home the next day, but barely in time to change clothes to attend the Developmental Services Banquet. This is our community organization for those with mental handicaps. Julian designed several of their group homes and was a very active member on their board for seven years. For about twenty years he also gave them the monthly stipend he got for being on the City Zoning Appeals Board. Last year we were invited, but he ended up in the hospital so we didn’t make it. This year they gave me a heads up that he was supposed to be given the award he’d missed last year. I think we got there two minutes before it started. So in his suit and tie, wearing his very dilapidated, but fortuitously stretched from wear, moccasin house shoes, he received an award and a lot of affirmation. Many of the award winners were clients with disabilities who work as helpers in the group homes. I was touched by the wholehearted applause and cheering of the other clients. The award presentations were interspersed with Christmas music like, O Holy Night, and the elderly client sitting behind me knew the words to all of them perfectly, but not the tunes. But the sheer joy in her voice brought tears to my eyes as I realized that this too was an answer to my Advent Prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus.” I think Jesus is more visible in the handicapped than in the rest of us.
Our primary care doctor now scheduled Julian for an endoscopy to check for other possible causes for the pain that took us to the ER.
Meanwhile, our son Steve came from Atlanta to spend the weekend creating a wonderland with our collection of Dickens Village buildings, people in many different vignettes, animals, and trees and landmarks of London.
Julian directed this from the couch and it ended up with five levels of hills and valleys with bridges over chasms, a cave, and even a crime scene complete with crime scene tape that our son Tommy made and sneaked into the village a couple of years ago! Well after all, they had a lot of crime in Dickens day too. All the houses, churches, pubs and businesses have lights inside and the sheets of cotton snow cover the few empty patches outside. I think some zoning issues entered into the city planning also.
It really is both beautiful and interesting. And since it has grown to cover the whole end of the living room and now even continues around one corner, there’s no room inside for a Christmas tree. But outside one of the French doors, we have a small lighted one that looms large over the village. If you have to be sick, this is a lot better view than in the hospital. (Well, other than Amy the blonde nurse anyway.)
The next weekend our son Tommy and delightful Whitney with the awesomely beautiful voice brought our four granddaughters and they helped decorate the rest of the house. Then it was fun watching our talented artist granddaughters draw and getting to enjoy Whitney singing with Tommy accompanying her on the guitar. Another truly lovely Christmas experience.
Finally, Julian got to have his endoscopy which showed a pill had become lodged in his esophagus and caused an ulcer. A biopsy done to check for infection was negative. But now the challenge was to avoid the many delicious foods that irritate an ulcer.
A week before Christmas, nineteen of our family arrived for our annual Christmas gathering in a cabin at near-by Montgomery Bell State Park. Our grown children and grandchildren did most of the preparations and helped us organize and pack up our now downsized contributions. The cabin with its large stone fireplace and its wooded setting on a lake is a perfect place for a holiday gathering. The first day, Julian mostly rested, wrapped warmly in a comfortable recliner with everyone taking turns spending time with him and getting him things.
By the second day he felt well enough to be beaten at poker by both the grandchildren and great-grandchildren! It was a very happy day with even our grandson who teaches in Bolivia making it back in time. And we got to face-time our son Michael and his spouse Patrick in Cambodia, where they teach at an orphanage for children born HIV positive. I love that I have lived long enough to experience talking with and seeing our loved ones all the way across the world. In spite of all our challenges, it was a wonderful family Christmas celebration.
Christmas week, Julian’s blood pressure started vacillating wildly and he began to have severe chest pain from the ulcer in spite of taking nineteen different medicines each day! Unfortunately, all our doctors were out for a week of Christmas vacation. Adding to his misery, one of his new medicines made Julian very dizzy. He was walking to the bedroom and started to fall as he was almost to the king size bed. I was behind him and began to try to help him get to the bed. He started shouting, “Where’s the bed? Where’s the bed?” Because a week before he had had a sudden drastic loss of hearing, I thought he’d now gone blind! I managed to get him safely onto the bed and asked him if he could see it now and he snapped back, “Of course!” When I asked him why he couldn’t see it a moment before, he replied, “Because I had my eyes closed.” I had a sudden strong desire to strangle him, but fortunately my hands aren’t strong enough.
Now the sparkling lights of the village and the twinkling little tree outside and the bright red cardinals flaming around the feeders were still cheerfully visible over the rather large air purifier, the humidifier, and the walker. They could even be seen between the CPAP and Blood Pressure machine and various breathing aids on the rolling cart that we pulled next to the couch with its pyramid of wedges for elevating feet above the heart. The Christmas angels and burgundy candles around the tray with Julian’s nineteen medicines looked festive on the dining room table. I tried to convince Julian that a wreath of holly would keep his head warmer and add to the Christmassy atmosphere, but he wasn’t in the mood. I was tempted to dig out the left over “happy” pills and slip just a half of one in his milk, but it being the Holy Days, for once I resisted evil.
Julian now needed to not lie flat because of the ulcer and he still needed to keep his feet above the level of his heart. I suggested getting a hammock since our middles are our heaviest body area, both head and feet would then be high. But it’s already getting difficult to walk around the apartment, so Julian solved the problem by varying which end he raises with the wedges over the day and night. The other challenge is a diet healthy for his heart, esophagus, and feet. Low salt, low fat, low fiber, no spices, no tomato products, no dairy for two hours before and after a pill he takes twice a day, no caffeine, carbonation, citrus or anything acidic or alcoholic. And the steroids are making his sugar count so high that the frequent tears in his very thin skin won’t heal. So, low sugar also. I spent about three hours grocery shopping during the busiest shopping season of the year reading the contents of everything. But it’s a saving grace to have our son Chris living nearby and willing to come stay while I have to be gone. He and Julian share many interests and it seems to not only be a bright spot in those days for Julian, but to be bringing them much closer to one another. And the many kindnesses of our family and friends have touched Julian’s heart, helping him see how loved he is.
Our newest great-grandson, Raphael, who had a difficult birth on November 15th, didn’t breathe until they resuscitated him. He stayed in the hospital for ten days on a ventilator and needing medicines for seizures. But the neurologist said he could not believe the second brain scans taken at five days old were of the same child as the ones they took the first day. The neurologist actually called it a miracle. Raphael is a beautiful baby and now at two months has a marvelous wide smile. Though we may not know the extent of possible damage for some time, he has many many people praying for him even on the other side of the world. And he is already tenderly loved by all of us. They live in North Carolina, but we get to see photos and videos of him almost daily on face book. And they drove from North Carolina to Tennessee just for four days so his grands and great- grands could get to meet him. So, as 2018 began, I got to hold him and kiss his tiny feet and see him smile and hear his laughter. What a wonderful beginning for a new year.
A beneficial side effect for me of helping Julian through all this has been my regaining stamina and managing a lot of physical activity with very little pain. And in spite of relieving some of the stress by standing at the kitchen counter in the middle of the night eating half a peach pie and another time six jelly doughnuts mysteriously disappearing in two days, I haven’t gained weight.
When someone is in pain, whether physical or emotional, they are focused on the pain, and the small things that keep relationships pleasant are no longer a priority. Through most of our marriage, I have been high maintenance and Julian has been very low maintenance. There have been rough moments for both of us in adjusting to such an extreme change in that now. He doesn’t like to need help and I have always wanted a lot of it. He’s never been comfortable expressing unpleasant feelings. And I don’t really know how to help him, because I worked hard over the years to learn how to deal with my emotions without garbage dumping them on him. So, in spite of being married over half a century, we are still awkward in areas of our relationship. Sometimes, I feel like at eighty years of age, I’m still an amateur person.
Humor has been our glue and in many ways it is still our saving grace. But in this stage of our life, the challenge is to learn how to love across our differences in ways that help us relate heart to heart.
Last week, the doctor explained that a lot of the ongoing illnesses are side effects of some of the medicines that so far are keeping him able to breathe. So Julian is beginning to deal with the reality that his life is not going to get better. In fact, it will be a constant challenge to keep it from getting worse.
It’s a scary and sad time for both of us. Sometimes when he is sleeping, I feel like my heart is breaking and when I let myself cry, I’m afraid I will never be able to stop. Our family and our friends at church have been incredibly loving and supportive. And I find grace by reliving joyful memories of our fifty-nine years together. Julian suddenly lost a lot more of his hearing around Christmas. His expensive hearing aids made his ears itch so he never wore them. But now communication is much more difficult. A friend with similar problems has found something that has helped him and he is bringing it for Julian to try, so I am hopeful that soon we will be able to enjoy reliving those memories together.
Eileen and Julian in the South West of France 2015
One of the blessings of old age is a treasury of wonderful memories.
A warped sense of humor is also a great help.
Joy to the world for Love has come. Let us rejoice and open our hearts to receive it. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our hearts with your love so that we can pass it on.
The Transforming Joy of Christmas is the perfect Love for all of us, that came as a vulnerable human baby. A life that not only offers us the unconditional love that can set us free to grow from needing to loving, but also gives us illustrated instructions on how to do it.
My favorite Christmas Picture with permission of the artist, Morgan Weistling
Licensed by the Greenwich Workshop, Inc.
I spent the morning remembering the excitement of our many past Christmases with five children, then even more grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
This Christmas morning Julian, trying to recover some strength after a debilitating week, was still asleep at 11:30 AM, so I went on line and saw photos of our son Tommy’s four daughters sitting around still half asleep, so looking less than thrilled, while Tommy worked hard to make a happy Christmas for them. He even thought to call and get them to chorus, “Merry Christmas” to me.
Life changes big time doesn’t it?
Then after Julian woke up and I fixed brunch, I began to try to be thankful. I found more things than I could write.
Our Tommy has matured into a loving person and wonderful father even for sleepy teen-aged daughters.
Julian’s blood pressure isn’t scary high today.
His breathing is much better than two days ago.
His cancer has not returned. His pulmonary fibrosis hasn’t progressed in the last six months.
Obviously at least some of his 19 medicines, that are sitting next to the Christmas decorations on the dinner table, are working.
I have a lot more stamina and energy than I’ve had in a long long time.
The couch we bought last year turned out to be good for sleeping with the wedges that keep Julian’s swollen feet elevated.
I can see the cheerful lights of our charming Dickens Village, which our son Steve constructed under the direction of his architect father, displayed now on five levels across the far end of the living room. They are still pretty through the crowded mix of humidifier and air purifier, across the rolling tray table with CPAP machine and blood pressure machine, past the stacked wedge leg supports on the couch, and even over the chair with pillows I piled against the wedges to keep him from pushing them off in his sleep 🙂
I got to have a rare visit with Carmen, our dearly loved first grandchild, last week.
Our newborn great-grandson, Raphael, who had a scary difficult time at birth, is flourishing.
There is a beautiful cardinal at the feeder on the porch.
Our son Chris is bringing a delicious dinner that our daughter-in-law Molly fixed to us tonight.
Julian felt well enough on last week’s family Christmas Weekend to play card games with the grands and great-grands.
Our daughter Julie and all our family and in-laws did everything, so we could have our family Christmas gathering again this year. They came from Memphis and Atlanta and Nashville, and one grandchild, Jordan, made it in on Saturday night from Bolivia. And we got to face time our sons in Cambodia.
Our children and in-laws, grands and great-grands are simply awesome.
Thanks be for all our family and for our many blessings.
Things change, but we keep on learning how to love. And that really is the point of Christmas.
Yesterday, I realized that I don’t distinguish between God and Jesus except when I need to deal with the downside of my own or others’ humanity. Then I reflect on the Jesus of the Scriptures and see how open he was to growing in understanding and wholeness. When I see the overview of how drastically Jesus changed his ideas and choices through interaction with people different from him and then going apart to pray, reflect, and listen to what God was saying through those life challenges, it gives me hope for myself and humanity. And it motivates me to stop and listen to God through my everyday life experiences. If I struggle with the same thing over and over, obviously I am not paying attention. The rough spots, the challenges, unfamiliar ideas, the people that make me uncomfortable are God calling.
Sometimes, I just HATE knowing that!
And sometimes I even have to mentally put my fingers in my ears and sing to myself, “Jesus loves me…………..” until that assurance of love gives me the courage to recognize that when something about another person pushes my emotional buttons, it’s because of something related that I don’t want to know about myself.
On the positive side, I realize that I also have God eyes. I experience not only pleasure, but the sheer joy of seeing God in the beauty in nature, momentary kindness in people, laughter of children, and my own humor at my weirdness, silliness and even brokenness.
Wow! That has been such a life affirming and empowering gift.
I’m pretty sure those two different aspects of openness are wholeness.
And wholeness is the path of the journey to holiness.
Strangely, what triggered this awareness yesterday was a friend mentioning sadly that none of the Christmas cards she received had anything about Jesus on them. They had birds and animals and lovely landscapes, but no nativity scenes. I realized that I used to feel the same lack of spirituality when cards only had beautiful nature or just happy people on them, but now I feel God in all those things everyday, so I see God in pictures of them too.
And I am really beginning to see this as not only progress, but as what Jesus is all about. Jesus is our main clue to the immanence of God, not just God’s transcendence. Jesus gives us God eyes. God in the natural, God in the limited, God in human incompleteness. God in our funky little unfinished selves.
Rejoice and be glad in it! If God is in the beauty of the cardinal who pushes the little birds off the feeders, if God is in the beauty of the daffodil that goes through cycles of ugly withering and beautiful blooming, God is in us and our cycles of dying and becoming new.
Jesus loves us because he has God eyes too.
Some of the comments on this led to a lot of learning about ministry to the homeless. Still feel God is calling me to some sort of connection to this ministry, but it’s pretty limited now with Julian so sick.
Let’s pretend Jesus knocked on your door Christmas day to join you for his birthday celebration.
Can you picture him standing there when you open the door? Can you feel your dawning recognition and surprise. Can you sense your moment of doubt, then feel it washed away by sheer joy? Do his eyes have laughter lines as he smiles with just a hint of fun at surprising you. Does his simple kindness surround you like a comforter?
Picture you inviting him in, stammering as you start to reach out to shake his hand, only to be embraced in a warm hug that brings tears of happiness and wonder to your eyes.
Let’s imagine how he might like to celebrate his birthday with you. Do you think he’d be happy if you asked him to sit down, then hurried to get the best lotion in the house to gently rub his…
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Familiarity may easily blind us to the shining fact that lies at the heart of Christmastide.
What we are in fact celebrating is the awe-inspiring humility of God, and no amount of familiarity with the trappings of Christmas should ever blind us to its quiet but explosive significance. For Christians believe that so great is God’s love and concern for humanity that he himself became a man. Amid the sparkle and the color and music of the day’s celebration we do well to remember that God’s insertion of himself into human history was achieved with an almost frightening quietness and humility. There was no advertisement, no publicity, no special privilege; in fact the entry of God into his own world was almost heartbreakingly humble. In sober fact there is little romance or beauty in the thought of a young woman looking desperately for a place where she could give birth to her first baby. I do not think for a moment that Mary complained, but it is a bitter commentary upon the world that no one would give up a bed for the pregnant woman – and that the Son of God must be born in a stable.
This almost beggarly beginning has been romanticized by artists and poets throughout the centuries. Yet I believe that at least once a year we should look steadily at the historic fact, and not at any pretty picture. At the time of this astonishing event only a handful of people knew what had happened. And as far as we know, no one spoke openly about it for thirty years. Even when the baby was grown to be a man, only a few recognized him for who he really was. Two or three years of teaching and preaching and healing people, and his work was finished. He was betrayed and judicially murdered, deserted at the end by all his friends. By normal human standards this is a tragic little tale of failure, the rather squalid story of a promising young man from a humble home, put to death by the envy and malice of the professional men of religion. All this happened in an obscure, occupied province of the vast Roman Empire.
It is fifteen hundred years ago that this apparently invincible Empire utterly collapsed, and all that is left of it is ruins. Yet the little baby, born in such pitiful humility and cut down as a young man in his prime, commands the allegiance of millions of people all over the world. Although they have never seen him, he has become friend and companion to innumerable people. This undeniable fact is, by any measurement, the most astonishing phenomenon in human history. It is a solid rock of evidence that no agnostic can ever explain away.
That is why, behind all our fun and games at Christmastime, we should not try to escape a sense of awe, almost a sense of fright, at what God has done. We must never allow anything to blind us to the true significance of what happened at Bethlehem so long ago. Nothing can alter the fact that we live on a visited planet.
We shall be celebrating no beautiful myth, no lovely piece of traditional folklore, but a solemn fact. God has been here once historically, but, as millions will testify, he will come again with the same silence and the same devastating humility into any human heart ready to receive him. J. B. Phillips
This is an excerpt I took from an excerpt published In The Plough Quarterly and offered as an advent devotional by them on face book.
It describes so well my own personal experience of Jesus fifty years ago and the power of it for me.
Each year my Advent prayer is, “Come, Lord Jesus, come and be born in our hearts.”
I so hope everyone’s Holy Days bring the blessing of God’s love to them.
For me Christmas is humanity’s birthday celebration. So, I am always ready for the Christmas season.
It’s a wonderful time of year. I’d like at least a six month holy day season and actually wouldn’t complain if it was all year long.
I love the frosty air outside here in Tennessee because it makes the warmth inside feel so comforting and the hot Chocolate so delicious. But when visiting my brother in Texas around Christmas, we all might be wearing shorts outside, but the air conditioning is turned on enough to light a fire in the fireplace.
My spirits lift with all the music whether it’s Rudolf or O Holy Night. Children’s laughter and excitement are contagious for me.
And all the colorful decorations bring special beauty everywhere. I like seeing different Christmas sweaters and get a chuckle at people wearing Santa hats. I even enjoy a lot of the cheerful advertisements. The beauty in nature, in people, and even in things people make gives me great pleasure. I don’t need to own them to enjoy their beauty.
I love beautiful Christmas cards with scenes of birds in snowy woods, funny Christmas cards with Charlie Brown and Snoopy or even Maxine, and of course, the tender ones about the love of God coming among us.
I can imagine the savory smells in anticipation of turkey and dressing and pies. And look forward to being amazed at the unusual creativity of our grandchildren making Christmas cookies. Well, why not have Christmas alligators and dinosaurs?
And I absolutely delight in our family laughing together and remembering funny things like a grandson’s expression when opening a box of rocks from me. 🙂 (He was supposed to open the paints first. )
I even love our annual messy marshmallow fight!
And I refuse to give up my satisfaction from sending elaborate meal planning emails to all the family, even knowing it’s an exercise in futility!
I enjoy lunch with my LOL (Little Old Lady) groups where we bring presents for children who may not have many and share our own hand painted Christmas cards and lovingly made pot holders with each other.
I love decorating, particularly watching my architect husband doing elaborate city planning of our ever growing Dicken’s Christmas village. The moment when we first turn on its lights at night is always magical. I still laugh at the tiny crime scene tape around a stout male figure lying down and a British Bobbie standing over him. (Our youngest son created that one year when no one was looking!)
I stop each day to step outside to check for snow flakes. And even smile at the fake snow in store windows and Christmas scenes, because it reminds me of the night I walked alone in thick new snow in our field on a hilltop. The silence was so profound, it created a feeling of total isolation and the night so clear that the stars blanketed the skyscape. At first I felt small and lost in the face of so much grandeur and such infinite space. Then once again, I experienced that sense of complete oneness with everything. And being even a tiny part of all of that made time seem liquid enough that death would be simply melting into eternity’s flow.
I revel also in the small kindnesses and good wishes from strangers. Sometimes, it’s experiencing a moment of kinship that’s real and meaningful.
I look forward to grandchildren’s Christmas concerts and pageants. And chuckle when I watch Sunday school enactments of Jesus’ birth, remembering the one my first child was in, where one of the shepherds kept hooking Joseph around the neck until a hand came out from behind the curtain and pulled him out of sight. 🙂
I treasure my special Christmas coffee cup that says, “Jesus is the reason for the season” because each morning when I have my first cup of coffee, it reminds me to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then come the joy of times when I recognize small and large blessings and the peace of the moments of sensing His gentle loving presence.
Recognizing and embracing the visible Love of God for all His Creation, including each of us in our imperfect unfinished humanity, is what makes Christmas also our Birthday Season. So, I wish you all a very Happy Birthday also in your Holy Days. May the Love of God erase our fears and free us to love one another.
During a Jungian inner journey in my late fifties, I had a very vivid dream. My husband and I were in a dining room on a boat on a river cruise. They brought us a series of small appetizers one at a time, which my husband ate with great pleasure, but I ignored while waiting for the main course. At some point, I realized there would be no main course. I was furious and went searching the boat for another dining room. When I found one, they only brought me an apple, which I threw against the wall in frustration. I went out on the front deck of the boat to see where we were going just as it began to go through a dark tunnel which became so small that I had to hunch down as we went through it. I felt total despair at first, but became hopeful when I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Since then I have learned to delight in and treasure the small joys of life, while accepting the pain of failures and disappointments that are part and parcel of being an imperfect human being in an imperfect world. I used to live focused on the future with its possibilities, missing both the joys and the grace available in the difficulties of the present. At seventy-nine, I am pretty much running out of future! But since that dream, I have had many experiences, both joyful and heartbreaking that have become grace for me. Life is about spiritual growth from living in awareness and finding meaning in the whole reality of the journey, not ego or worldly gains or idealized scenarios.
Heartbreaks that have brought grace:
The pain of loss filling me with hate, but persistence in prayer freeing me to let go and accept not only loss, but mine and others’ flawed humanity.
Letting go of past ways of experiencing tenderness and intimacy and becoming open to new ways of feeling deeply cherished even in my helplessness and physical pain.
Accepting that one of age’s delights, sharing laughter with the one I love the most, has an expiration date, because it brings on debilitating coughing spasms due to his progressive lung disease, then finding peace instead in quiet moments of just holding one another.
Letting go of the need for understanding, so I can begin to love instead of need.
Sadly recognizing my own vulnerabilities in the generations following me and knowing the pain these will bring them, but beginning to see that God can bring them through to joy as he has me time and time again.
Knowing that life will not get easier, but believing that grace will continue to bring the fruit of love from both heartbreak and joy.
Appetizers on the journey this Christmas season:
The tree full of cardinals outside our windows, children’s laughter, babies’ smiles, hugs from my husband Julian, people being kind and friendly in a crowded grocery store right before Christmas, Americans’ amazing kindness to the handicapped, Christmas decorations, Julian sitting quietly in the dark enjoying his Christmas village, both Leonard Cohen’s Halleluja and Handel’s Messiah, getting to do the sermon from the molehill at our worship service on Christmas day, our son Mike’s photos and delightful descriptions of his students at the Cambodian orphanage for children born HIV positive, our son Chris getting an interesting new job and so many people in Dickson telling me how wonderful he is, my suicidal friend now ministering to others, seeing friends find new hope in the person of Jesus without having to buy into the hang ups of any denomination, Tylenol taking away all my pain for a while, my loyal friend Margie being a constant in my life, my sister-in-law’s mouth-watering fudge cake, my first cup of coffee in the morning, Christmas memories on face book, our son Steve’s humor and willingness to take care of us Aged Parents in bizarre experiences in foreign airports, all of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, grandson Josh and wife Paula and seven year old Eisley’s adventurous spirits, grandsons Jordan and Jake’s caring hearts and courage, Nativity scenes, granddaughter Hadley so happy wearing her Unicorn Onesie at Norman Family Christmas, granddaughter Emma and her BFF talking and laughing non-stop in the back seat while I drove them to the mall, getting freed from my temporary insanity of hating someone by saying a prayer for love and peace each time while writing it on over a hundred Christmas cards, our teen-aged granddaughter Sophie hugging Julian whenever she sees him and laughing and discussing great books with nephew David, the HO HO HO’s – my friends who are not afraid to color outside the lines, my very own fun super drummer boy great-grandson Aaron, our daughter-in-law Molly’s incredible ability to continue to love even those that bring her heartbreak, our daughter Julie’s infectious laughing attacks that we call “Julie moments”, eight year old Bella’s unfettered enthusiasm for life, memories of waking up to a snow covered world, grown granddaughter Carmen’s resilience and lightning quick sense of humor, the delight of making vegetable soup to share with sick friends and the poor, becoming friends with our fascinating and loving cousin Mary Eleanor, my ninety-four year old friend, Barbara’s children coming to see her in shifts from all over America this Christmas season, grown up great grandson Ryan still having good memories of going downtown with me before the stores opened to earn nickels by sounding out words on signs, some people actually responding to my blogs, being able to keep up with my best friend from High School and College on line, getting to know interesting and friendly people in Canada, England, Nigeria, France, New Zealand and other countries across the globe through the internet, my Study Club women friends, who have miraculously bonded across huge differences in religion, politics, age, background, economics and interests.
These are just a few parts of the wonderful collage of my life that bring me seasons of joy in what sometimes momentarily seems like the “cesspool” of life.