Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving to the Best Gift and the Best Giver of Good Gifts

    I learned a long time ago that I talk too much. It started with the report card in second grade that was marked with the telltale notation: Talks when she should be listening. In other years the report card had a little blank for the teacher to fill in that said  "Needs to work on:  fill-in-the-blank  and you guessed it, my blank usually said "talking." In fifth grade my teacher was Mrs. Mary Evelyn Clark whom I managed to adore despite the fact that she wrote on my grade report the words I could no longer ignore: Talks excessively. How embarrassing. And how true.
   It therefore stands to reason that my relationship with God has been governed, to a great degree, by the same struggle. I have never really had any problem talking to God. I have always been a pour out your heart and bore you with the details kind of girl. I figured that God could wade through the junk to get to the real issues a lot faster than I could, so prayer for me was a lot of prattling, some crying, some more prattling, accompanied by some more crying...I think you get the idea.
   And every year when Christmas or a friend or family member's birthday rolled around, I would get nervous. My budget was usually limited and my vision of what I would like to give was almost always limited as well. After years of purchasing things that left me feeling miserable and frustrated, I finally broke down and sent up a fully signed and endorsed (by me) petition to God regarding the whole gift-giving thing. It came in the form of a surrender. I raised the white flag, climbed down on my knees and said the big word, "H-E-L-P." And then I waited. That's really part of the miracle. That I waited. That I did not, once again, bombard the Holy One with details and instructions and requests. I waited. I know He heard me. He always did. The problem was that I almost always did not take the time to hear Him. I waited some more. I remember exactly where I was when this lengthy quiet exchange occurred.  I was lying underneath the dining room table in our house in Temple Hills. It was my "prayer closet." Not a one of my four children ever thought to look for me there, so it was my private place where God and I worked a lot of things out (usually with me doing most of the talking).
    I waited a long time. I am sure (knowing me like I do) that I probably grew impatient. After what seemed like FOREVER, I heard these words spoken to my soul, "If you LISTEN, I will show you what and how to give." Wow. That doesn't sound like rocket science to some of you, but it was revelation pure and simple to me. "If you LISTEN....." What a novel idea. But I had no idea how to LISTEN to God. I had always been too busy talking.
    I could write not just a blogpost, but a whole book about the process God took me through to teach me how to listen, however I have to work around to my point sooner rather than later. Thankfully, I did (despite my sin, my stubbornness, and my unquenchable desire to have my own way) learn to listen. And let me tell you, when I have actually listened and heard and obeyed (gosh, I hate that word), I can always...not sometimes, but ALWAYS tell by what happens that God was and is right on target. For the most part, gift-giving is so different now. Please don't think I am some holier-than-thou amazing gift-giver because God will surely humble me as soon as I write this post...and I will be the person who gives you the gift that makes you roll your eyes, shrug your shoulders in disgust, and scurry to the store to return it as soon as possible. However, I want to go on the record to say that when I listen, He is faithful. In things great and small. If I have learned anything in these nearly sixty years, it is to give all the credit where credit is due.
   So Happy Thanksgiving God! You are the BEST gift and the best giver of all time! You really do give amazingly good gifts to your children. The list is so long I can't really do much except hit a few high points: You have given us the gift of salvation, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of your Word, and the unbelievable gift of yourself. You are a giver through and through. I will unashamedly take all that you have offered. I thank you for giving me grace and mercy when I deserve the opposite. These gifts of yours are what get me through each day. Your grace is also what helps me to understand the price you had to pay to give me a life with you. A price so great I can scarcely comprehend it.  I know that you have told me that I will be your daughter forever. I am counting on it and am thankful for this incredible gift of adoption.  I also thank you for the grace, mercy, and love that were poured out on calvary. I have still got so much to learn from you. But I love listening to you almost as much as I love talking to you. And you and I know that is saying a lot. So I am here. Talking as usual. I need to go sit in your presence, not asking you for anything. Just rejoicing that I am your child and am always welcome.
Just sitting.
Just waiting.
Incredibly blessed.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Taking a Break

   It began with a crashing computer. The one with all of my photographs on it. Then one excuse began piling up after another. My stress level kept rising. I could not organize my thoughts or anything else, for that matter. So after much angst, I gave myself permission to take a break from blogging. Something that is supposed to be fun and therapeutic had ended up becoming a burden. Not a good idea.
   I am back today with a repost of a very special Christmas blessing that has a place of honor in our home each and every year. I just put this treasure out today. I know. It's the week before Thanksgiving. And here I am decorating for Christmas. But I have a good excuse. A really good excuse. I am having my right knee replaced the day before Thanksgiving. So unless I decorate today and tomorrow, the Christmas decor will pretty much be nonexistent. Thus...I have been dragging out my treasures and putting them out...smiling all the way. It's been a delightful day. 
    I do hope to update you all on my knee replacement (this is my third joint to be replaced.) It's not exactly something to which I am looking forward, but it is something that I most definitely need to do. Look for me later. I will be the one in the hideous white TED hose that will carry me right through Christmas. Maybe I'll just pretend to be a snow bunny this year...right.

     During the first twenty-five years of our marriage, it became a tradition for me to purchase something reminiscent of the nativity as a part of the Christmas gift The Husband and I gave to one another. Thus it is that our home at Christmas is filled with creches. When Christmas is over, I don't even put them all away. Some of them remain in place throughout the year as a perpetual reminder of the "Gift" they represent. Some are ornaments that hang upon the tree; others are fashioned of wood, ceramic, or clay, and one set is made entirely of felt. It is just perfect for little grandbaby hands to hold and to move and to place just so over and over again.
       However, the favorite of all of my creches is a very humble nativity, one that is not likely to attract a second glance unless you know the story behind it. Despite its lack of supposed beauty, it has a place of prominence in our home: it has its home on the entry hall table to greet guests when they come in the door. 
       The base is a slab of unfired clay made by one of my children. There are little figures crafted by another of my children, where once there were four figures, only three have stood the test of time. Sadly, Joseph has completely disintegrated. The figures are accompanied by a hand-lettered banner made by yet another child and finished off with a clay plaque by the last of my children. Thus, this beloved nativity represents the collective efforts of all four of our offspring. It was not planned this way, but I am convinced it was a gracious coincidence guided by a heavenly hand.
     The banner is twenty-three years old. I wouldn't trade anything in the world for the "Goly to God in the highest..." Goly was a first grader's way of writing "Glory," but I am sure that God understood exactly what this child of mine was trying to say. 
     Another child lovingly crafted the base which originally was shaped more like a cave and had an overhanging top that has long since broken off. It holds the three figures (there were once four). There is  Mary; she is the figure on the right bending over the tiny figure resting on a bed of clay. It is Baby Jesus but his head is no longer attached to his body and must be carefully positioned or it will roll off on its own. To the right of Jesus and Mary is a lion, crouching in the snow. When the son who made the figures came home with this nativity with the lion, I had the audacity to ask him, "A lion?"  (I am thinking a cow or sheep might have been more appropriate, but mothers should learn early never to ask children questions like this, unless they want to immediately be put in their place. I will never forget that he looked at me with something akin to disdain as he said, "Of course, Mommy, don't you know that the lion goes with the lamb?"  And so it does. I cried. He patted me. 
      The Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God...they go together, do they not, and indeed, are they not one and the same? Yes, some of the most profound truths come out of the mouth of babes. 
     The final complement to this treasured creche is the little clay plaque in the back:.You can barely read it, but in case you can't, I'll tell you: It says, "Jesus I Love You." It was originally supposed to be a cross, an Easter decoration, but when this child brought it home he told me,"I couldn't do the cross, Mommy, I wrote Jesus a letter instead. I thought He might like it better than the cross. I wanted to tell Him thank you." I cried again. He said, "I want it to go with the manger." It was springtime so I asked again, "Do you want me to put it out with the Easter things?"  He shook his head firmly. "No, this cross is a letter, and it goes with the manger." 
       How could it be that a child understood something so deep, so powerful, so profound?  How could he grasp at the age of five, the very essence of the cross? How could he know that the cross, the terrible, wondrous cross, is also a letter, an I-love-you letter from a Holy God to His beloved, yet sinful people. 
       So you see perhaps why this tiny fragile nativity holds a place so dear to this mother's heart. Each child of mine made his or her contribution, unplanned and unscripted over the course of many years to make it complete. There is a Banner of Love (Goly to God...). A little cave to cradle the Holy Family. A lion to stand guard and to lie down with the lamb.  And finally, a love letter that would and should have been a cross, except that a little boy wanted so much to write this letter to say thank you to Jesus for the cross. And the child knew intuitively that this was no ordinary baby, this was a baby born to die to save us from our sins. Christmas irrevocably linked to Easter. It is no accident that we must become as little children, is it? And once again, I cry, "Lord help my unbelief. Help each of us to believe with the wonder and the certain faith of a child."

    It is my Advent song this year...starting with the Week of Thanksgiving.

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