Monday, December 28, 2015

Watching Cousins

We had a wonderful Christmas gathering last week and one of the most special things about it was watching the cousins interact. We have two boys and six grandchildren. The ages are 2 1/2, 5, 8, 10 1/2, 15 and 17. The children are close enough that we try to gather for birthdays and holidays and often for sheep shows in the summer. Though they know each other very well their ages don't make them playmates. Instead, there is a sense of caring, respect, and love between them.

The older cousins help care for the younger ones and the younger ones look up to the older ones. The older cousins are mentors to the younger ones and as they grow older they have more to share. They seem to enjoy time spent together and there is plenty of laughter and fun.

In some families the cousins meet each other only once or twice a year. That is the way it was for me on my mother's side of the family. There were reunions held in the summer time that drew us together. We would get reacquainted and spend the day playing then have a difficult time saying goodbye at the end of the day. Many of the cousins were already grown up and married when I was a child but there were a few of us close in age so we had a great time playing in our aunt and uncle's wonderful playhouse. For awhile we exchanged pen pal letters, keeping us close a while longer.

I feel blessed that my grandchildren are growing up friends.

"Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up the other" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10a KJV).

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Child is Born

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14 NIV).

The air is filled with anticipation: the arrival of guests, gifts under the tree, good food prepared, a quiet house ready to burst with 'Merry Christmas's' and laughter and 'my how you've grown!', and looking forward to the Christmas Eve candlelight service. Yet the greatest anticipation is in awaiting the birth of a child. There is so much joy surrounding a birth, but the holy family had so much to worry about: traveling to Joseph's home town to register for the census, finding a place to stay and rest, caring for the tiny infant Jesus in the rustic stable.

It is so wonderful to have family together to celebrate this blessed season. Gathering in the grandchildren to read the Christmas story, taking family pictures in front of the tree, the oohh's and aahh's as each gift is opened, the old stories shared that make everyone laugh, the hugs and smiles and the shared meal and conversation. It is a blessed event. May you and yours enjoy a truly blessed Christmas this year.

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

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Christmas Pageant

Another tradition that has been part of my Christmas for a lifetime is the Christmas pageant. It is a blessing every year to see the children of the church perform the Bible story of Jesus' birth. It never grows old.

As a child I was always involved with the Sunday school children and youth Christmas play. Each year was a little bit different yet the story was the same. I was nearly always an angel or Mary, though I think one year I was a shepherd. The costumes were the best part. For at least twenty years the same light blue scarf covered Mary's head and the white angel gowns were well used. A box full of robes and glittery wings was pulled out year after year. And the props were always amazing. Some years there were elaborate backgrounds painted and designed by the talented ones of the church. The star held the spot of honor, sometimes even moving to ultimately hang over the stable.

The Christmas play took weeks of practice and massive work on the part of the directors to gather all the busy children around and get them focused on the story of Jesus' birth. The littlest ones nearly always sang, "Away in a Manger" to begin the program, dressed in their Christmas best. Often there was little music that came from their shy lips as they twisted and turned and pulled up their dresses in a row. The Christmas pageant was such a part of my life that I would often involve my nieces and nephews in a quickly organized play after the big Christmas dinner. Our attic always provided the necessary props and costumes for a reenactment of the holy story. I don't remember how those all worked out but I hope I wasn't as bossy as I remember.

As years passed it was soon my own boys who were in the pageants and a time or two I helped with the program. I wonder if they remember being shepherds or Joseph or wise men. The youth were small in number when they were growing up so I know they were involved.

Yesterday our youth performed a high tech version of the blessed story, using a newscast format and video "live" reports as the events occurred. It was delightful and very creative using the video screen to project the action where everyone could see, since our current worship setting doesn't have a raised platform. The story is old, yet always new in anticipation of the coming Savior.

"So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:4-7 NIV).

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Arrival of Light

One of my favorite things as a child was seeing the Christmas lights on houses as people decorated for the season. I loved when Daddy would drive us down Main Street where big beautiful homes had elaborate lights up for Christmas. I loved the lights on trees posed perfectly in front of the big picture windows and the strings of lights that illuminated the roofs' edges. Another of my favorites was when they string lights down from a star - beautiful.

In Marshalltown there was always a lighted display of Santa and his reindeer flying across Center Street at the Fisher Control buildings and another on the roof of the roundhouse high school gymnasium. The lighted nativity scenes were always beautiful and cause for extra time to look and remember what the season was all about. I even remember a year when there was a live nativity set up at Riverside Cemetery (as I remember). When our boys were little we sometimes drove around looking at lights, too.

Light is warm and loving; it is joyous and cheery. I enjoy the light decorations so much that I've even sent thank you notes to families for their lovely displays in the past. Mama liked to string lights around her front porch and I've often had a little light display, too. I have shepherds and sheep (of course) and a star for our manger scene. I love that some farmers take time to hang a star high on their grain bins or silos. Light - a symbolic reminder of what Jesus Christ brought into our world that quiet night in Bethlehem.

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'" (Luke 2:8-12 NIV).

Monday, December 14, 2015


Christmas caroling was a tradition for my family. Our church has been going caroling for as long as I remember. We would gather into a parade of cars and drive from house to house then on to sing for residents in nursing homes and the Iowa Veterans Home. It was a tradition that continues at Bethel Grove every year without me.

Often a friend would ride along with us because it was so much fun spending time together. Daddy often led the singing with his powerful voice. For a time we had books of Christmas carols to sing from. Daddy had a tendency to lead with the same song and he would get stuck with a few carols that we used over and over again. The carolers would give him a hard time occasionally. Sometimes he would start a song too high or too low for anyone to be able to sing and everyone laughed. When my boys were little they too joined in the caroling, riding along with grandpa.

There were some very cold days and a few pretty snowy ones too.We always warmed up in the nursing homes and IVH as we walked the halls singing with joy in our hearts. We had to shed our heavy coats and scarves because it was so toasty.

The best part of caroling was seeing the joy it brought to those we caroled for. Often there were tears. Almost always there were smiles too. The residents loved to see the children and sometimes they would sing along. We chose locations where members lived and they were thrilled to see familiar faces.

The day came when Mama and Daddy could no longer go along but instead became one of the locations being caroled to. When she was able, Mama would serve cookies and juice to the carolers who arrived in a school bus to sing to them. The daughters continued that for a few years when it became too big of chore for her. I remember how touched Mama and Daddy were by the special visit that filled their house with music.

For the first few years it was too hard to go caroling without my parents who had been such a mainstay of the tradition. Now I've gotten into the habit of not going, mainly because I have a terrible voice these days. Thankfully there are many who continue the tradition and bless those who are now shut-in.

"It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp" (Psalm 92:1-3 NIV).

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Searching For A Tree

When I was a little girl Christmas wouldn't come fast enough. I was so impatient about waiting for a Christmas tree. In those days it was customary to have a live tree cut, placed in a stand that had a generous bowl for water, and then decorated. Because it was cut fresh, it couldn't be in the house for very long, as it would get too dry and become a fire hazard.

Our trees were never perfect, it seemed. Sometimes Daddy would cut a scraggly native cedar tree from one of the fence lines. This only happened after much pleading for him to get one. He would drag the tree back to the house and prop it up in a snowbank for Mama to see. She never rejected a tree that he brought, however my recollection is that she was never quite satisfied. There was always a lot of trimming that happened to the trees and the trunk often was chiseled down so it would fit in the tree stand. I remember Mama spraying the tree green a time or two and also flocking it in white. It always had a bad side that got turned to the back. The cedar trees were painful to decorate as their branches were filled with tiny sharp needles.

Occasionally Daddy would purchase a cut tree at the local grocery store lot. They were always tied up or netted so you never really knew what you were getting. Those trees also got propped up in the snow bank for several days to let their branches relax into normal position. Delaying yet again the date of putting up the tree. There was always a fresh fragrance to those cut trees and sometimes a nest would be revealed while decorating, adding to the home-grown charm. The fresh cut trees required daily watering, especially in our wood-heated house that was very dry.

The decorations included lights and silver tinsel. I remember stringing popcorn or cranberries to hang on the tree and I know there was a box of glass ornaments and a few treasured items that were hung with great care. I wish I could remember some of them. I do remember making a red and green paper chain one year. Putting up the Christmas tree was always highly anticipated and I still get excited about putting up our tree.

"He is like a tree planted by streams of water; which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither, Whatever he does prospers" (Psalm 1:3 NIV).

Monday, December 7, 2015

Mama's Kitchen

My Mama has been gone now for over 16 years. It doesn't seem possible that so much time has passed. Yet, when I think of the Christmas season Mama is the first person I think of. Often before Thanksgiving she would begin her holiday baking. She would fill containers and freeze items so when the week of Christmas came or there was a holiday get-together she would pull out boxes and boxes of goodies and put them together to make a beautiful assortment of Christmas treats on a plate or platter.

Mama would begin by sending a list to town with Daddy for all the special ingredients she would need. Lots of flour and sugar were needed to start and then all the ingredients that would make her baking and cooking extra wonderful looking and tasting. She would stockpile nuts, red and green maraschino cherries, molasses, raisins and dates and assorted red and green sugars or sprinkles. Plus chocolate chips and plenty of white bark candy that she would melt and pour over almost anything you could eat.

She would spend hours in the kitchen mixing, baking and cooking, spreading the tasks out when she began to get tired or moving to her kitchen stool where she could sit and decorate or plan the next day's cooking attack. She was so generous with her goodies. Often the pastor and shut-ins from church or family would be the first on the list to receive an assorted cookie and candy plate. Sometimes there were special neighbors on the list, or associates of Daddy's that would receive the special sweets blessing. Somehow there were always plenty of goodies left to be pulled out for family gatherings or special visits from the grandkids.

This year I wasn't really planning to make a lot of goodies since John and I are watching what we eat. I did get a special invitation to share making some of my favorite recipes with my pastor's family this year so that will be fun-without the temptations following me home. But then I remembered that the boys usually expect at least their favorites, so I may reconsider as the day draws closer.

"Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:17-19 NIV).

Thursday, December 3, 2015

December Days

The sun is rising just above the horizon as a white sphere while thin clouds move past. The clouds fade away as the bright globe begins to glow with its powerful light. Soon it becomes too bright to look at and the light begins to fill the day with a warm glow. It is December and the trees are stripped bare of their leaves. The ground is brown again after the brief snows have melted away. The mown areas are still green. Our yard is decorated with drifts of corn leaves following a powerful wind that moved through shortly after the field was picked.

A warm front has moved in for the rest of the week and we will experience very mild temperatures for this month. Yesterday I had the rare treat of the return of the eagle to our yard. I noticed it hovering over head then watched as she gently settled down to the ground over a hill. I can only guess that the eagle spied something dead that the dog drug up. She spent five or ten minutes on the ground then gracefully lifted off and glided across the sky once again.

"As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease" (Genesis 8:22 NIV).

It is a quiet time of year, suited for snow. There are no tractors operating in the fields or distant corn dryers running. The animals seem calm and happy as they seek green or grain to graze. Just manmade noises of traffic on the roads and trains on the tracks. Even the birds have quieted their chirping, reserving their voices for special moments of joy.

It is the season of hope and anticipation. A time to use those quiet days to seek the Lord and to invite Him into your heart so you can fully experience the glory of the Christmas season.

"By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me--a prayer to the God of my life" (Psalm 42:8 NIV).