Christmas time is here again. In the local stores it has been for sale since before Thanksgiving. Since Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, I wait until Advent to start my Christmas. Oh, I admit, I play my playlist of Christmas songs sometimes other times of the year, and occasionally, I buy items right after Christmas when they are downright cheap and tuck them away for the following Christmas, but for the most part, Christmas starts at Advent.
In 2018, the first Sunday of Advent was December 2. On December 3, I was out prowling around my storage barn getting out Christmas decorations. This year I put up both of my (artificial) Christmas trees. One is gorgeous, at least to me, all decorated in gold and white, while the other is practical. It is a four-foot table tree. About ten years ago I attended a ceramics class and painted every gingerbread ornament that shows off on that tree.
The next thing I did was prepare an outline for the December devotionals I would present at the local senior center and select the stories I would tell. I repeat the devotional at a local nursing home too. Then listening to Christmas music from my playlist started in earnest. Nearly every selection features an aspect of Christmas minus Santa Claus. I don’t hate him, he just doesn’t fit into my Christmas. My Christmas is one of hope, love, joy, peace, and Jesus.
Next, Karyl’s bakery opens. Time was when the grandchildren were all small, between Thanksgiving and Advent, A pajama factory kicked into operation, but I don’t do that anymore. I gave my sewing machine away when I no longer could see well enough to sew. I can still bake, almost by instinct. By just a few days before Christmas I will have enough baked goods to give to my near neighbors, the firemen down the street at the station, and our local police department. This year the Johnson County Senior Services will get treats too. They tote me around to doctor appointments, dentist appointments, and various places that they can fit into their schedule. Every single one of them is kind to me. I want to give back to them in more than the few dollars I contribute each month. They ask for nothing; I just give it to them anyhow.
Tonight, my daughter and family are taking me to the church Christmas program. We are meeting in a little while for a mid-afternoon lunch; if we were British, I suppose it would be tea. My grandson is home from college. I haven’t seen him since June so I am excited to see him. I’ll steal from my stash of goodies to make up a plate to take over. Christmas is indeed a time for giving. It is a time for joy, a time for peace, a time for hope, and always a time for Jesus.
I’ve used this story a couple of times this week. You might need a tissue or two before the story is finished. It teaches such a very important principle that I decided to share it here. I found it on a story site back in 2014. Some of you storytellers may be able to use it yet this year.
Christmas Eve, 1881
Regretfully, author unknown.
Pa never had much compassion for the lazy or those who squandered their means and then never had enough for the necessities. But for those who were genuinely in need, his heart was as big as all outdoors. It was from him that I learned the greatest joy in life comes from giving, not from receiving.
It was Christmas Eve 1881. I was fifteen years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there just hadn’t been enough money to buy me the rifle that I’d wanted for Christmas. We did the chores early that night for some reason. I just figured Pa wanted a little extra time so we could read in the Bible.
After supper was over I took my boots off and stretched out in front of the fireplace and waited for Pa to get down the old Bible. I was still feeling sorry for myself and, to be honest, I wasn’t in much of a mood to read Scriptures. But Pa didn’t get the Bible, instead he bundled up again and went outside. I couldn’t figure it out because we had already done all the chores. I didn’t worry about it long though, I was too busy wallowing in self-pity. Soon Pa came back in. It was a cold clear night out and there was ice in his beard. “Come on, Matt,” he said. “Bundle up good, it’s cold out tonight.” I was really upset then. Not only wasn’t I getting the rifle for Christmas, now Pa was dragging me out in the cold, and for no earthly reason that I could see. We’d already done all the chores, and I couldn’t think of anything else that needed doing, especially not on a night like this. But I knew Pa was not very patient at one dragging one’s feet when he’d told them to do something, so I got up and put my boots back on and got my cap, coat, and mittens. Ma gave me a mysterious smile as I opened the door to leave the house. Something was up, but I didn’t know what..
Outside, I became even more dismayed. There in front of the house was the work team, already hitched to the big sled. Whatever it was we were going to do wasn’t going to be a short, quick, little job. I could tell. We never hitched up this sled unless we were going to haul a big load. Pa was already up on the seat, reins in hand. I reluctantly climbed up beside him. The cold was already biting at me. I wasn’t happy. When I was on, Pa pulled the sled around the house and stopped in front of the woodshed. He got off and I followed. “I think we’ll put on the high sideboards,” he said. “Here, help me.” The high sideboards! It had been a bigger job than I wanted to do with just the low sideboards on, but whatever it was we were going to do would be a lot bigger with the high side boards on.
After we had exchanged the sideboards, Pa went into the woodshed and came out with an armload of wood – the wood I’d spent all summer hauling down from the mountain, and then all Fall sawing into blocks and splitting. What was he doing? Finally I said something. “Pa,” I asked, “what are you doing?” You been by the Widow Jensen’s lately?” he asked. The Widow Jensen lived about two miles down the road. Her husband had died a year or so before and left her with three children, the oldest being eight. Sure, I’d been by, but so what?
Yeah,” I said, “Why?”
“I rode by just today,” Pa said. “Little Jakey was out digging around in the woodpile trying to find a few chips. They’re out of wood, Matt.” That was all he said and then he turned and went back into the woodshed for another armload of wood. I followed him. We loaded the sled so high that I began to wonder if the horses would be able to pull it. Finally, Pa called a halt to our loading, then we went to the smoke house and Pa took down a big ham and a side of bacon. He handed them to me and told me to put them in the sled and wait. When he returned he was carrying a sack of flour over his right shoulder and a smaller sack of something in his left hand. “What’s in the little sack?” I asked. Shoes, they’re out of shoes. Little Jakey just had gunny sacks wrapped around his feet when he was out in the woodpile this morning. I got the children a little candy too. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without a little candy.”
We rode the two miles to Widow Jensen’s pretty much in silence. I tried to think through what Pa was doing. We didn’t have much by worldly standards. Of course, we did have a big woodpile, though most of what was left now was still in the form of logs that I would have to saw into blocks and split before we could use it. We also had meat and flour, so we could spare that, but I knew we didn’t have any money, so why was Pa buying them shoes and candy? Really, why was he doing any of this? Widow Jensen had closer neighbors than us; it shouldn’t have been our concern.
We came in from the blind side of the Jensen house and unloaded the wood as quietly as possible, then we took the meat and flour and shoes to the door. We knocked. The door opened a crack and a timid voice said, “Who is it?” “Lucas Miles, Ma’am, and my son, Matt, could we come in for a bit?”
Widow Jensen opened the door and let us in. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The children were wrapped in another and were sitting in front of the fireplace by a very small fire that hardly gave off any heat at all. Widow Jensen fumbled with a match and finally lit the lamp.
“We brought you a few things, Ma’am,” Pa said and set down the sack of flour. I put the meat on the table. Then Pa handed her the sack that had the shoes in it. She opened it hesitantly and took the shoes out one pair at a time. There was a pair for her and one for each of the children – sturdy shoes, the best, shoes that would last. I watched her carefully. She bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling and then tears filled her eyes and started running down her cheeks. She looked up at Pa like she wanted to say something, but it wouldn’t come out.
“We brought a load of wood too, Ma’am,” Pa said. He turned to me and said, “Matt, go bring in enough to last awhile. Let’s get that fire up to size and heat this place up.” I wasn’t the same person when I went back out to bring in the wood. I had a big lump in my throat and as much as I hate to admit it, there were tears in my eyes too. In my mind I kept seeing those three kids huddled around the fireplace and their mother standing there with tears running down her cheeks with so much gratitude in her heart that she couldn’t speak.
My heart swelled within me and a joy that I’d never known before, filled my soul. I had given at Christmas many times before, but never when it had made so much difference. I could see we were literally saving the lives of these people.
I soon had the fire blazing and everyone’s spirits soared. The kids started giggling when Pa handed them each a piece of candy and Widow Jensen looked on with a smile that probably hadn’t crossed her face for a long time. She finally turned to us. “God bless you,” she said. “I know the Lord has sent you. The children and I have been praying that he would send one of his angels to spare us.”
In spite of myself, the lump returned to my throat and the tears welled up in my eyes again. I’d never thought of Pa in those exact terms before, but after Widow Jensen mentioned it I could see that it was probably true. I was sure that a better man than Pa had never walked the earth. I started remembering all the times he had gone out of his way for Ma and me, and many others. The list seemed endless as I thought on it.
Pa insisted that everyone try on the shoes before we left. I was amazed when they all fit and I wondered how he had known what sizes to get. Then I guessed that if he was on an errand for the Lord that the Lord would make sure he got the right sizes.
Tears were running down Widow Jensen’s face again when we stood up to leave. Pa took each of the kids in his big arms and gave them a hug. They clung to him and didn’t want us to go. I could see that they missed their Pa, and I was glad that I still had mine.
At the door Pa turned to Widow Jensen and said, “The Mrs. wanted me to invite you and the children over for Christmas dinner tomorrow. The turkey will be more than the three of us can eat, and a man can get cantankerous if he has to eat turkey for too many meals. We’ll be by to get you about eleven. It’ll be nice to have some little ones around again. Matt, here, hasn’t been little for quite a spell.” I was the youngest. My two brothers and two sisters had all married and had moved away.
Widow Jensen nodded and said, “Thank you, Brother Miles. I don’t have to say, May the Lord bless you, I know for certain that He will.”
Out on the sled I felt a warmth that came from deep within and I didn’t even notice the cold. When we had gone a ways, Pa turned to me and said, “Matt, I want you to know something. Your ma and me have been tucking a little money away here and there all year so we could buy that rifle for you, but we didn’t have quite enough. Then yesterday a man who owed me a little money from years back came by to make things square. Your ma and me were real excited, thinking that now we could get you that rifle, and I started into town this morning to do just that, but on the way I saw little Jakey out scratching in the woodpile with his feet wrapped in those gunny sacks and I knew what I had to do. Son, I spent the money for shoes and a little candy for those children. I hope you understand.”
I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears again. I understood very well, and I was so glad Pa had done it. Now the rifle seemed very low on my list of priorities. Pa had given me a lot more. He had given me the look on Widow Jensen’s face and the radiant smiles of her three children.
For the rest of my life, whenever I saw any of the Jensens, or split a block of wood, I remembered, and remembering brought back that same joy I felt riding home beside Pa that night. Pa had given me much more than a rifle that night, he had given me the best Christmas of my life.
Author Unknown – Please comment if you know the author
so credit can be given.
This year marked the actual time that I quit working entirely. I’ve worked part time at something or another for several years. Two years ago, I was forced into becoming a non-driver. My eyesight slipped lower than 20/40 so the driver’s license was out of the question. But still I held on to a vendor job because public transportation was available to some of the spots in which I had job assignments. One by one the ability to read plan-o-grams slipped away and I hung up my apron and called it quits.
For some, particularly men, retirement is depressing. They can’t seem to find something meaningful to do. I understand that. The golf course, the fishing pond, the traveling can only last so long. For a woman, the housework goes on. Laundry piles up even for a single person! Closets still get cluttered.
This afternoon I read a meme that asked the question: “What gets you out of bed in the morning?” Well, three times a week I find myself getting up and ready to attend my local senior center. We just visit and there I find open doors of opportunity to be an encouragement to someone. Cheering someone up also cheers me up! It’s a good thing to laugh with someone. Wednesday mornings the Lord has given me the opportunity to teach the Bible. Of course, that requires preparation beforehand. Sometimes I even tell a story because I love storytelling. Why limit it to children? Adults are just children grown taller, right?!
Thursday mornings finds me at a local nursing home leading some singing and teaching he Bible. Seeing smiles and hearing stories of their lives is also an encouragement to me. It goes both ways. From time to time I am temped to stop going to Hickory Creek, but then I know that if I brought them some joy that lasts only twenty minutes or so, it is worth it. Never mind if they forget me a few minutes after I leave. I brought some joy for a few minutes.
This afternoon I was searching through my recipe collection looking for a particular recipe for Pumpkin Bread. It is one of those yummy recipes that I found in the Minneapolis Star about 50 years ago. Tired of always having to leaf through this giant three-ring binder, I decided to take it apart and sort it all out. Hmm, that’s what a retired person can do. Why not? It kept me occupied for a good long time and it was with satisfaction I slid the new binders in place—but yikes, I’d neglected to save out the pumpkin bread recipe. Oh well, another day.
Moses, who lived to 120 years old, died in Moab. Deuteronomy 34:7 declares that his eye was not dim, nor his natural strength abated. He is credited with writing Psalm 90 where he says that if our days are three score and ten (70) and if by reason of strength they be more, yet they will be cut off and “we fly away,” (go ahead, sing it, I know you want to) we should be careful to use our days for others. In verse 12, Moses tells us to “number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”
If it comes to an end where I am confined to a bed, I’ll still want to plan my days. I may be retired, but I don’t ever want to stop learning. When I have learned my last lesson, I’ll fly away.
This is a day set forth to return thanks to our Great God who has given America so much favor. How glad I am for the Separatists who journeyed at great personal cost to the shores of North America in quest of liberty. That’s where it all started. That first celebration of harvest in 1621 was founded on the principles of biblical truth.
Today as you gather with loved ones, some who might be a bit challenging to your way of thinking, be kind. Love as Jesus loves. Change the subject as you need to in order to keep peace.
Are you shocked that I am delving into a possible dysfunctional family? Every family has its unique dysfunction if they will admit it. Today is a day to put those things aside nd “as much as lieth in you, live peaceably. . .” There is always at least one family member who is disagreeable. Accept the fact and move on. Decide to be the sweetest one in the family today.
Have a wonderful day. Remember that many times “wonderful” comes dressed in disguise.
Our city has a wonderful machine that comes around all the streets in the city and vacuums up the rows of leaves we have all pushed to our curbs. It is amazing. What I have dubbed the “leaf sucker” came along and swept all my leaves this morning. My hard-working grandsons and one granddaughter raked them for me last Saturday.
My journal entry described the leaf-sucker as a burden bearer. It comes along and does the work of bagging up all those leaves, and the cost of the bags. If we allow Him, the Holly Spirit wants to carry our burdens. We just must hand them over. Why is it that with tight grip we hold on to our problems and try to solve them ourselves? When it comes right down to the answer, it is that tenacious grip in our sinful soul that wants to be boss.
It also reminds me of a sermon illustration I heard probably fifty years ago but I am reminded of it time and again. It goes something like this: Up ahead the driver saw a man walking on the side of the road. He was carrying what looked like a fifty-pound bag of corn or wheat on his shoulder as he trudged along. The driver pulled his horses and wagon alongside of the gentleman and offered him a ride. “Oh, thank you, said the walker, “I am happy to accept a ride.” The man then struggled to get into the wagon seat without losing his load and happily sat down. The sack was still on his shoulder. The driver was puzzled. “Why don’t you set your sack in the back of the wagon?” he questioned. “Oh, I don’t expect you to carry me and my load too.”
“Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you” states I Peter 5:7. Jesus bore our sin load at Calvary. He did it all. He will carry you and your load. Don’t try to foolishly solve your own problems. Understand that Jesus just wants us to sit the problem aside and let Him solve it.
It seems that every time I ask the Lord for wisdom, if I patiently wait, an idea will come to mind that solves the problem. (James 1:5) Jesus, the best counselor there is, wants us to come to Him. He is waiting. Don’t struggle under a heavy load when Jesus will joyfully take it for you.
Now, I wish I could say that I learned that when I was a new Believer. I didn’t. I have carried many a heavy load just as that rider in the wagon did. I was redeemed but held on to my own way of doing things. In gentle love, Jesus persuaded me to stop carrying my own problems and trust Him. His strong arms can carry any burden.
So, the city leaf-sucker reminded me of an important truth this morning.
John Milton expressed well the attitudes we should employ in our days. When everyone does his responsibility and allows God’s sovereign judgments, we don’t need recognition. Once upon a time I memorized these treasured lines, but today only one or two came to mind. Here it is in completion to ponder on this designated day of honoring a specific population. We all serve. We should serve one another in humility.
Here it is: “On His Blindness”
When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
This week our nation had an election as it does every two years to fill the seats of the House of Representatives and half the Senate. As is the custom, once we cast our vote, we are rewarded with a little sticker that states, “I voted.” It is such a small thing, silly really to give out stickers to adults of all ages. It is such a small thing. Yet, voters wear it with pride on election day. I voted early as is now my custom, and I didn’t get a sticker. I don’t recall ever getting a sticker since I vote early.
Although I was a secondary level teacher, I gave out stickers in only one area: spelling and vocabulary skills. If the student earned a 100% grade on the weekly test, I gave them a sticker. A person is never too old for a pat on the back. The character development in taking the time to memorize the spelling of a list of words is a worthy accomplishment as far as I am concerned.
When I moved and changed schools, I decided to carry on my tradition of awarding stickers for spelling and vocabulary. The first week the students expressed that they felt insulted and treated like the “little kids” and even rolled their eyes at the small reward. That didn’t stop me, however. After three weeks I noticed seniors sporting stickers on the covers of their notebooks, and when I missed giving out a sticker, I heard about it!
I feel it in my heart when I know I have earned a sticker. I feel the warm smile from Jesus when He whispers to my heart, “Good job, Karyl.” Someday at the Judgment Seat of Christ, one by one we will stand and give account of how we used our time, our talents, and our money. If I have a chart full of stickers, I’ll be pleased. Won’t you?
“It’s all his fault.” Really? All is such a strong word. It may be that it is largely one person’s fault but is seldom a whole person’s fault. Now, let’s switch that around. “It’s all his credit.” He did it all? I doubt that too. Most of the time there is plenty of blame and credit to go around.
If I fail to measure correctly, or leave out an ingredient, the food may be so miserably tasteless that the fault is ALL mine. I was in the kitchen alone, I failed to measure or mix correctly, and the dish was a flop. I once made a meal so terrible that the dog even turned up his nose at it. That was all my fault, I take the blame, and regretted that it was a waste of money.
Recently I made a batch of cookies and there were three of us working together. It was two grandchildren and I working together. They turned out delicious! We could all take credit.
The body of Christ works together like a well-tuned orchestra. The flute, violin, clarinet, and kettle drum all sound at the correct place, at the right time and out comes a majestic sound. Let the drum come in too fast, or too loud, and the clarinet squeak, and the flutist fall asleep, and we have disharmony and dissonance beyond degree.
Disharmony in the home happens the same way. We have too many opinions and selfish motives going and it gets to be a mess. First, Mom and Dad need agree. Disharmony happens in churches when one or two families insist on having their way regardless of how the Pastor wants to see something carried out. Disharmony in a community happens when the city council and the Mayor’s office are in opposition. Worst of all, the whole country falls into disharmony when blame is on one branch of government. We must work together. Congress. Justice. Executive. A house divided against itself will fall.
Whose fault is it anyway? Oh, how could I forget! Sin is having a heyday. Just a little selfishness here, a little lie there, throw in some envy, and we now have a dish that is so bitter tasting the dog doesn’t even want it.
I voted a week ago. In at least one case, I admit, I voted for the lesser of two evils. I hope that when you go to the polls, if you have not already, you will put aside foolish reasoning and vote for the best candidate for the job. Our country needs some harmony. We do not need food so bad that the dog buries it rather than eat it.
Most of all, implore you to pray God’s protecting hand on our Country. It isn’t the money spent, the miles flown, the yard signs (although I do have one in my yard)—it is God’s hand of Providence that keeps our country protected.
By the way, if you don’t vote, you can only blame yourself for the direction of the nation.
Louis Zamperini is a remarkable man. This is his story.
Although the movie with the same title was released recently, I am referring to the written book. From a very young age I have always preferred the book to the movie. Movies leave so much out and tend to twist things around.
The book, written by Laura Hillenbrand, copyright 2010, by Random House has 530 pages. I selected the “Talking Books” edition that is unabridged and I sure am curious about all the pictures I missed with each chapter. The reader includes all the captions. Listening time is 16 hours, 32 minutes if one listens to the many acknowledgments at the end (which I found fascinating).
Hillenbrand, an excellent biographer, researched her subject thoroughly. The book depicts events so realistically that many times I felt chills as things were described. Zamperini was first a track and field star and qualified for the 1936 Olympics. He was also quite the prankster and kept a “do not disturb” sign he stole off Jesse Owen’s door knob at the ’36 Olympics. Glenn Cunningham was competing in the same Olympics as well. All three runners are known for competing to break the record for the four-minute mile; Zamperini held the closest then with four minutes, 8 seconds.
When World War 2 broke out, Zamperini enlisted and his life changed forever as a result. His plane, in which he was a bombardier was shot down in the Pacific. He was stranded on a raft for 47 days which is described in detail, and when rescued, by the Japanese, he spent the rest of 1943 until the end of the war in three different prisoner of war camps. After 13 months he was reported to his family as dead. I have read other books about POW camps, one in Germany, and one in Viet Nam. The Japanese were by far the cruelest of the three. Hillenbrand’s research and hundreds of interviews give details for the book that are gruesome.
After Zamperini’s return to civilian life he did not do well. Hillenbrand does not hide his alcoholism. Only by the grace of God his wife, Cynthia, coaxed him to the Los Angeles Billy Graham Crusade where Zamperini came to Christ. Still the dreams and PTS bouts brought horror to him and the nagging unforgiveness of one of the prison guards were struggles.
Hillebrand follows the lives of others who were prisoners of war with Zamperini and skillfully weaves the story together seamlessly without ever leaving the reader confused. This is an amazing story. The man who was thought dead by our government lived to be 97 years old despite all the abuse his body took. Read it for your self or at the very least, get the movie and watch it. You will be amazed and blest.
I wrote this about six weeks ago. Much has happenedd since that confirms in my heart that the message of Jeremiah is more pertinent than ever. A Lazy River may be fun at a water park, but it ends disastrously in real life.
The entire book of Jeremiah is a thorough identification of how Judah cam to be captured by the Babylonian Empire. In my opinion, it is the most interesting book of the four major prophets. It contains history, exhortation, storytelling, and foretelling. It reads smoothly.
Directly following Jeremiah are five chapters of lamentations that Jeremiah cannot help but express. You see, Jeremiah survived the captivity and was left in Southern Israel (Judah). Near the end of the book, he predicts that instead of turning to the Lord after a majority of Judah is forced to move to Babylon, that instead of turning to the Lord for their help, they will turn to Egypt. It would be a mistake when they did that because Assyria came against Egypt and the Jews were still not safe.
If we were in Jeremiah’s place, we would also walk through the desolation of a war-torn Jerusalem and weep. In chapter 2, verse 14 I see such sadness. “Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee: they have not discovered thine iniquity, to turn away thy captivity; but have seen for thee false burdens and causes of banishment.” What? Let me clear that up. Jeremiah is saying that the preachers gave them excuses for their sorry estate instead of exposing the sin of idolatry and indifference that drove God to allow the enslavement to Babylon.
When preachers, or our clergy, offer excuses for wrong doing instead of personal responsibility, in fact, they may as well allow the parishners to just float on down a lazy river. Just go along with the crowd because it is easier that way. Just hop onto that little raft and ride the current because that sure is easier than standing against the current of a sinful crowd.
Verse 16 gives the results at the end of lazy river. In some water parks the lazy river runs into deep water or a wave pool that is challenging. Jeremiah says, “All thine enemies have opened their mouths against thee: they hiss and gnash the teeth: they say, ‘We have swallowed her up, certainly this is the day we have looked for, we have found, we have seen it.’”
Floating on the lazy river, even if your preacher makes excuses for it, is not the answer when you can stand fast for the Lord. If, or when, the time comes (I speak hypothetically now) that your clergy speaks softly of sin and tells you it is okay to dress your boy like a girl—find a better place to worship! Do not ponder the decision. Your church leader is on the Lazy River