Putting Away Christmas

I had planned to keep my Christmas stuff up well into January because it just felt like this year needed a little extra sparkle for just a bit longer. I’m not a perfectionistic white-glove housekeeper (by any stretch of the imagination), but I do like a certain level of tidyness and order. Before I knew it, the niggling longing for order won out and those green and red plastic tubs were making their annual trek back up from the basement storage area so I could begin putting back all those pretty Christmas-y decorations.

Each ornament goes back in its original box, or gets wrapped in newsprint or tissue and placed in a protective box or tin. As I carefully stacked those boxes filled with fragile baubles into one of the three larger bins, there was a sense that I was, in a small way, packing up and setting aside some memories that would be unwrapped and remembered once again in the hope of next Christmas.

“Putting away Christmas” is theologically impossible. Christ’s advent, God’s gift to the world, cannot be wrapped up in tissue paper and set aside the day after Christmas. Emmanuel, God With Us, cannot be stuck in a box to be forgotten about until unwrapped again next year. When I “put away Christmas,” it is our somewhat clouded by glitz and glitter attempt to remember his advent each year that we are really putting away.

As I filled the third bin with my tissue-wrapped baubles, I noticed the corner of an envelope hiding in the bottom of the bin. It was tucked under a box of lights I haven’t used in years. I pulled it out and discovered a gift I hadn’t opened this year. It was a letter addressed to me in my mom’s familiar cursive script.

Years ago, Mom had taken the time to write out the words to the poem “My First Christmas in Heaven.” I’ve read it many times before — maybe you have read it too. I know that a few of you, my friends and loved ones, experienced the fresh sting of grief in your heart because a loved one was missing at your celebration this Christmas, so I will include an image of the poem here for you.

It says “Author Unknown” but I think most sources now attribute the authorship to Wanda Bencke, whose daughter died just after Christmas in 1997.

The postmark on the envelope was clearly stamped 10 DEC 2009, so it was fitting that when mom copied the poem’s title, she neatly crossed out the word “First” and wrote above it, “Second.”

Mom’s little personal post-script penned beneath the poem sheds light upon the reason why.

Last Christmas, I kept running the last line through my head but could not remember the rest of this old poem. This year in Reminisce Magazine it was printed in their December-January 2010 issue.

Love, Mom

I just love this little find, yet another of God’s little grace gifts in my life. You see, she sent it on my dad’s second Christmas in heaven, and here I was re-reading it 12 Christmases later, just after she celebrated her first Christmas in heaven.

An ornament commemorating my momma’s last Christmas on this side of Heaven

Grace Awakened Eyes

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Counting our common everyday gifts – our grace gifts from God – is the challenge I have accepted as a discipline of the heart. My current Bible study is encouraging me to take notice of God’s grace in the minutae of life and giving thanks.

Eucharisteo. To be grateful, feel thankful, give thanks.

It’s probably the last day in 2020 where the sun will feel so very warm and the air so beautifully crisp. Today was a good day to take a walk in “my park” just down the street. Today I step off of the paved path and take the lesser traveled pathways worn in the tall grasses in little patches of the park.

Today I take notice of the small things. The glimmer of sunshine low in the sky, streaming through the trees, forming halos around what remains of summer’s flowery offerings.

Photo by Marta Wave on Pexels.com

I thank God for the sun. It’s there every single day, even when I don’t see it, reminding me that God’s grace surrounds us, intricately involved in our ordinary days – even on the darkest and most difficult of days.

My wandering feet cross the expanse of grass still green which not so very long ago hosted soccer games, picnics, and kites. A distant patch of color lures me to explore the paths that other feet have created. Such beauty. I thank God for placing me in a community that has such a wonderful place for families to play and explore. Even now, in the midst of the sickness that stubbornly refuses to loose its grip on humanity, people enjoy its respite and calm.

A colony of milkweed punctuates the wind-flattened grasses. I step into their abode to explore the spent pods which have long since burst open to release next year’s seeds. The fruit pods are dry now, grayed like me with age, yet the outer capsule still bears a design and texture placed there by the Creator. I marvel at the intricacy and find joy of heart when I find one lonely pod still not quite open. The cottony fluff feels like silk to my touch.

I thank God for this herbaceous perennial that beckons the Monarch butterfly to lay her tiny eggs in the shelter of its ovate leaves. One tiny egg for each plant, if she can, so as to make sure the babies she may never see will have food enough to grow, yet not destroy the hospitable host. [Read more about milkweed here.]

I spy Queen Anne’s Lace framed by amber colored grasses tipped in burnt orange and a band of blue sky. She sways tall in the breeze over the meadow grasses, her skirt drawn up and around her as though bracing for winter’s nip. As my aging eyes seek to see more, her Designer’s sage attention to detail reveals a gentle beauty, even though stripped of her ornate white petaled robe.

Somehow, this stately queen of the meadow makes me think of my mother’s gentle beauty. Many have remarked that there was something about her skin that was so lovely and fair – even in her 80’s. But what made her truly beautiful was the beauty of Christ in her. No beauty serum could impart more radiance than my momma’s beautiful reflection of Christ as she imitated Him in life’s ups and downs. Alzheimer’s could not steal that beauty.

I stand in the meadow and thank God for reminding me that this beauty can be mine too. Her faithful example still lingers, pointing the way. Momma’s life still touches mine, even in her absence. Today, I thank God for taking my beautiful momma home so gently. Though she went through many difficult days with Alzheimer’s, years actually, I thank God that now she knows fully they were truly light momentary afflictions when compared with the glory of her heavenly home for which she longed.

Tomorrow the snow will begin to fall and soon it will hurt just a little to take in that first breath of air when we walk outside. Yet, even in that, there will be countless reasons to thank God, be reminded of His grace, and experience true joy in the bounty of His grace upon grace.

Eucharisteo. To be grateful, feel thankful, give thanks.

Putting the Word before the World

I hope it’s no secret that I am a Christian who truly desires to live every aspect of my life in such a way that Christ is honored and glorified. When you read what I write, I genuinely hope you see the Word of God is the hub around which the wheel of my life revolves.

Most who know me personally consider me to be a mature believer, but I know there is much room for growth. If I am honest with myself, there are days when I fall very short in my goal of making the Bible central in my life. For this reason, I have accepted a challenge to become part of the Word Before World Bible study challenge – a group of believers seeking to make time in the Scriptures a first thing in the morning priority. Before all the things which will capture our attention during the rest of the day that follows. Before we pick up our cell phone or log onto our computers, or turn on our televisions. Time in the Word before we pick up that interesting novel, or check to see what’s going on in Facebook or Instagram world.

First in my heart.

Our little Word Before World group is now 12 days into the challenge. It’s a virtual group – perfect for this day when social distancing is recommended. While we may never actually meet one another on this side of heaven, it has been delightful getting to know other women who struggle just like I do, yet have the same heartfelt longing and desire. We have been praying for one another, sharing insights we have gleaned from our time in the Word, sharing verses and encouraging one another.

So, here’s how my day 12 went.

It is my custom to listen to the scripture while I’m getting ready for my day – sometimes before my feet even hit the floor. Yes, it involves picking up my cell phone, but I rather like hearing the Scripture spoken out loud (by a wonderful narrator) on my Bible app. Today I decided to listen to the suggested reading while I took a morning walk. I began with Psalm 103 and ended up listening to the entirety of Psalm 119 (176 verses!).

Along the way on my personal “psalm-walk,” I stopped to enjoy God’s magnificent creation in the gardens of a few of the neighbors along my route. There were several beautiful gardens, but I think this mailbox garden was particularly impressive.

When my route finally returned me to my own driveway, I grabbed a cup of coffee, headed to my favorite Bible study spot and opened my Bible to Colossians (which I am currently studying). It’s a little book, just four chapters, yet so very challenging to me – particularly as it relates to my responsibility to pray for other believers and encourage them in their walk with Christ. Next, I flipped back to Psalm 103 to read the passage our group was challenged to read together. As I spent time reading and contemplating this psalm, verses 17 and 18 made me stop and thank the Lord for his steadfast love – and that His love and righteousness has been extended to my own children and each one of my grandchildren too.

My current favorite Bible-reading spot

But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

Psalm 103:17-18 (ESV)

I couldn’t help but pull out my coloring pencils. and write the names of my grandkids in the margin as I prayed for each one.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!

Psalm 103:1 (ESV)

Turning the Last Page

From the moment I arrived at BeeHive, it was apparent to me that we would be experiencing the final chapter of Mom’s remarkable sojourn on earth. The stroke had dealt a crushing blow, adding further injury to Alzheimer’s furtive chipping away of her mind and body.

I will forever be grateful to the staff of BeeHive for graciously allowing me to stay at my mother’s side during her final days. It was a hard week, filled with opportunities to be a comfort to my mother, and moments both endearing and bittersweet. My overnight vigil afforded a rare opportunity to observe the night shift at work, deepening my appreciation for those dear ones who watched over the residents at night.

On May 24, 2020, a beautiful Sunday morning, as I held her hand in mine, the final page of Momma’s life was quietly turned. My sweet mother’s story on this side of Glory ended just as I hoped and prayed: Alzheimer’s lost and God won as He called her gently Home to begin the story that never ends.

Bedtime Prayers

Even on nights when I am weary and tired, I sometimes have trouble falling asleep. Other times, I fall asleep, but cannot stay asleep. My trouble with insomnia probably stems from being on the plus side of 60; but, I think the main problem is that my mind just keeps whirling with thoughts long after my head hits my pillow. In my search for a remedy, I read about a sleep tactic whereby you count backwards from 50, mindfully counting each breath. Breaths are slow and measured – one deep breath in, hold a few seconds, then a slow breath out. I thought it couldn’t hurt, so I tried it. Lo and behold, it seemed to work, as I don’t recall ever getting past the 20’s on my way to zero.

One recent evening, as I completed my requisite bedtime routine of pillow-punching and fluffing, I decided there might be a more meaningful way to spend my countdown to sleep. Rather than pay close attention to the ins and outs of my breathing, I decided to pray about things that were on my heart as I counted forward, rather than backward.

That night, I prayed for the things God brought to mind: a missionary our church supports, my Christian brothers and sisters in Christ who live and serve in India, my children and grandchildren, my brother as he recovers from surgery, my husband’s various ministry endeavors, my pastor, the friends who are looking for work, and several friends with health needs. As I poured the concerns of my heart out to God, I remember taking my sweet mom’s name before the throne as well, asking God to take her gently Home to heaven in His time. Even though I knew I would greatly miss her, I longed for God to rescue her from a body and mind trapped in the clutches of Alzheimer’s.

One by one, my requests were heard by my heavenly Father, resulting in a heart that was quieted by this little bedtime prayer and praise time. Tucked in my bed and nestled under a blanket of God’s peace, eyes closed in prayer were soon closed in sleep. Something tells me my Heavenly Father didn’t mind one bit when His sleepy child fell asleep mid-prayer.

My Psalm

Our pastor likes to give us an assignment at the end of his sermons; something to think about or put into practice. I always take notes, but appreciate this “oh, and one more thing” encouragement to give further thought and prayer to what I heard. Several Sundays ago, Pastor Jeremy suggested that we write our own psalm. A psalmist, I’m not, but here are the thoughts – a prayer, really – which came to my heart and mind as I sat down to write that very afternoon.

A Psalm for Growing Older

Increase my love, my Lord, for your precious Word! Help me to treasure it up in my heart.

May your divine precepts keep my life pure as I remember in all circumstances what you have taught me.

I pray that your Word would lodge in the deepest corners of my mind and guide my steps, words and actions.

Even when my memory fades and mind grows feeble, may your Word remain sharp and firmly anchored in my heart.

Give your servant a heart guided by a love for for your Word; may your loveliness be reflected in me all the days of my life.

Distant Hearts

I think most Christians have those times in their walk with Christ where they feel a bit distant in their hearts. I’ve been in that place for awhile – feeling a little sad and out of sorts – a bit discouraged. Things which once brought pleasure seem to have the joy sapped out of them.

In my ministry life, I’m feeling like my teaching ministry isn’t bearing fruit and sometimes question whether I’m making a difference at all. My devotional life and time in the Word has been slipping. I sense my heart is distant and I’m not growing. I’ve been a Christian for 50 years now, so it’s a hard thing for me to admit I’m struggling in these areas.

One thing I know for sure, while my heart feels distant, God is not. He’s as close to me in my struggle as He is when all seems well. He has not moved – his steadfast love has not changed.

Psalm 119 is very dear to my heart. I re-read it today and found comfort in knowing that the “man after God’s own heart” felt this way at times too. Here we find David often crying out before God in the midst of his struggles, acknowledging that his help would come from God’s Word. Even when he felt like a lost sheep, He knew the Shepherd was near and would deliver him, put the song back in his heart and words of praise on his tongue.

I find assurance knowing that when the heart of one of His servants strays and feels distant and cold, the Good Shepherd is there seeking, drawing her heart back through His Word.

This post is written for Five Minute Friday Link Up. The word for today is “Distant.”