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Usually when we read the Christmas story or even refer to it, we automatically go to the account given in Luke, which describes the actual birth more definitively.  So this year I decided to meditate on the book of Matthew instead.  Now I have read Matthew multiple times and studied it quite extensively, but never before was I so aware of the WONDER of the young man who was CHOSEN to be the ‘stand-in’ dad for the Christ-child!

We first learn a lot about his gentle and kind disposition in verses 18 and 19 of the first chapter which reads:  “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man, and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”

I think most young men would be furious to find their betrothed was pregnant, knowing they had not come together yet.  They would want to shame and embarrass the girl to a certain extent.  Even before he was told it was God Himself Who had made Mary pregnant, he still wanted to respect and honor her and not shame her.  But when the angel told him it was of God, Joseph didn’t doubt for a moment!  I don’t know if he was accustomed to angels visiting him, but he certainly took it in stride and was quick to be obedient.

Later, immediately after the wise men visited the baby, the angel appeared to Joseph again telling him to hasten and leave the area to protect Mary and the Baby.  This second time he obeyed so immediately he got them all up in the middle of the night to leave for Egypt.  Egypt!  They had no family there.  Probably knew no one at all, but Joseph asked no questions.  He simply obeyed.

Then again after Herod died, the angel visited once more and told him it was safe to go home.  Again he arose and packed up Mary and Jesus and headed home to Israel.  On the way home the Bible tells us he was ‘warned in a dream’ not to go to Judea, so I’m not sure if that was visit number 4 or simply a dream, but at any rate, Joseph understood it was from God and obeyed without question.

There is SO much NOT told to us about the timetable of all of these incidents, but I can’t help but think it all took place in less than a year or two since there are no other children mentioned.  Some believe Jesus was two years old before the wise men even arrived, because of the distance traveled and because Herod said to kill children under the age of two, but I honestly believe the star appeared to the wise men in time to get them there for celebrating Jesus’ BIRTH, and they moved out in faith—possibly before He was even conceived.  Also, there is no mention of other children traveling with Joseph and Mary, so that also leads me to believe it was before more family came along for them.

At any rate, no matter what the timetable, I am humbled by Joseph’s sweet spirit of obedience.  I wonder how I would react were an angel to visit me and make such odd requests.  Would I think I was hallucinating?  Would I dismiss it all as a dream?  Would anyone believe me if I told them?  But Joseph did not question at all.  He simply obeyed.

It is common to honor Mary and hold her in high regard, especially at Christmas time, but I’ve never yet heard a sermon or seen a devotional on Joseph!  He just sort of melted out of the telling of the history of the Christ child.  But these past few days since being impacted by his lifestyle of obedience, I have been challenged anew to follow Christ in complete and humble obedience–in the spirit of Joseph!

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Looking Back

The house is glowing with warm anticipation of the holidays (holy days) ahead, and as I sit looking at our nativity and thanking our Lord this morning, it came to me that life is very much like a giant teeter-totter.  Does anyone today even know what a teeter-totter is?  Oh, how I loved teetering with my friends as a child.  I loved that sense of daring as I flew to the top hanging on for dear life, but I loved that tiny sense of control (of sorts) and security as I felt my feet hit the ground as well.  And just like teetering, life itself is filled with ups and downs.

This morning as I thought about the joyful days ahead, I found myself also looking back.  We often hear that we need to keep our focus on our goal and never look back, but I’m here to tell you that sometimes it feels as though the goal is unattainable and that no progress has been made at all.  That is when it is imperative that we look back to see how far we’ve come.  Not to become smug about it, but to gain perspective and courage to realize our effort is not in vain if we do not give up.

The bad thing about looking back is seeing all the mistakes we’ve made and wrong choices and things we wish we could undo.  We must be careful that Satan doesn’t overwhelm us with a sense of hopelessness and lack of worth, because the good news is that when we are a child of God, all the past has been forgiven and we can let God, our Father deal with it.  Our hope is in the fact that we have the whole future ahead of us to do better and to make less bad choices, and knowing that when we confessed our sinfulness to God and asked His forgiveness, He not only forgave all the wrong we had done, but He forgave all the wrong we WOULD DO!  In the future!  That is NOT a license to do as we please, because if that is our heart, then we are not forgiven!  He knows the sincerity of our hearts—there is NO fooling with God!  So we must keep the past in perspective and use it as our ‘step up’.  That is when God is able to make even our wrong choices useful.  Nothing is wasted with God!

As the New Year approaches, we often start thinking of new resolutions and ways we want to improve who we are and what we want to accomplish in the future.  But it’s good to also look back—to take a measure of past accomplishments as well as failures, to keep our lives in a good perspective, but also to see the things God has done in our lives.  And today, as I look at that babe in the manger, I can’t help but wonder:  WHY did you care for one such as me?  WHY did you love me enough to forgive me and accept me as one of Your own?  WHY did you suffer life as a human and even die on the cross when You didn’t have to?  It’s a love I cannot grasp, but it’s a love that fills my heart with true THANKSGIVING.

Happy Holy Days

So…I know I haven’t posted for a long time, but today it feels urgent.  Yesterday I had to pick up more lights for the Christmas trees and heard ‘Happy Holidays’ for the first time this year as I checked out.  Now I admit to being a bit disgruntled when I first began hearing it a few years ago, because it just—well, it sounded so ‘commercial’ and generic to me.  That’s when I realized—it actually IS generic because it encompasses both Christmas and Hanukah.  And why shouldn’t it?  Just because I happen to celebrate Christmas, there are others that celebrate a different holy day:  those that don’t know our Savior and still look for his coming.  (Oh!  WHAT they are missing!)

But it also is a greeting for those that look to Santa to make their season bright, and I think that’s what hurts me most–the thought that there are those making a worldly thing out of a most sacred celebration.  For some reason, I really don’t like sharing Jesus’ birthday with Santa Claus because quite simply, it takes the focus off of the meaning and reason for the whole celebration.

As I stewed about the whole greeting conundrum yesterday and even this morning, I suddenly came up with my own solution.  Instead of replying with a very emphatic “Merry CHRISTMAS” to the one sharing the greeting, this year I intend to reply, “Thank you!  And happy HOLY DAYS to you also!”  Because that’s exactly what these next weeks are!  As we begin the season of advent which points us to the birth of our Savior, we are truly celebrating holy days, and I will pray that each person that greets me will hear my prayer for them that they will come to know the Reason we celebrate and enjoy holy days of worshipping Him alone!

And my prayer includes a prayer that you will enjoy the holy days also!

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 7½ years since Rick and I made the trek halfway across the United States to make a new home in Vinton, VA. We moved here to be closer to our adult children, and within the first year of arriving here we were richly rewarded by being made grandparents for the first time. Since coming, our two sons and their dear wives have blessed us with three grandsons and three granddaughters, so our move was definitely worthwhile! How very delightful it is to be close enough to them to get to be an active part of their lives!

It was a bit of a rough start for me when we first settled in so far from all our loved ones in Indiana. Even though we were closer to our children, we were still a four-hour drive from either family, so mostly we were dropped into a town full of total strangers. However, what God had prepared ahead of time for us was that this must be the friendliest town in the world, and oh! How I needed that!

While we were still unloading the moving vans one neighbor came over with a basket filled with goodies and a heart full of cheerful welcome! And through the past seven plus years, we have become friends with pretty much everyone around us, and what an amazing neighborhood (and town) this is! I never dreamed of such a place! Our neighborhood reminds me much of the way life used to be ½ century ago when neighbors visited over the fence and took care of one another as a family. That’s exactly what happens in our neighborhood, and I love it! I am going to miss these people terribly and will always cherish fond memories in my heart.

This town is amazing! I never mind paying our town taxes here, because we can literally see that money working every day of the year! There are police driving through the neighborhoods on a regular basis, just keeping an eye on things. The town picks up all our trash, and until just recently (due to some pests called vultures) even provided a location for trash to be put into large trailers for times when you’re cleaning up extra, or leaving on vacation and don’t want to leave trash out in front of your house. They even sweep our streets on a regular basis and pick up all leaves and brush that are raked to the edge of the road. It’s the absolute tidiest town I’ve ever seen!

But now Rick’s retired and our oldest son and his family have moved closer but still an hour away from us, and have encouraged us to move even closer to them since we are raising grass-fed steers together on their 40 acres. We have sold our home here in Vinton now and this week will move across to the other side of Roanoke (Salem) to be nearly ½ hour closer to the farm, but still close enough to enjoy the church we love so dearly in Roanoke, and to hopefully stay in touch with the many friends we have made. It will be great to be close to the farm and to our grandchildren, and I sincerely look forward to many of the changes this move will make for us such as no more stairs and no more hills to mow! But one thing’s for sure: Our years in Vinton will always be remembered with a smile. I miss this town already!

Snow Days

So, I’m not a huge fan of facebook, but I check it out now and again. I saw a funny clip about a mom that was frustrated by one more snow day and the children being home and it made me remember…

When I was a child, we worked a lot! There were always, ALWAYS chores to do and today I’m thankful for the way we learned the importance of pulling our own weight and sharing the responsibility of being a family. But on snow days (which were seldom), it was sometimes a holiday for us all!

I remember one time my mother even pulled on some of Daddy’s work pants (UNDER her dress, of course!) and dressed us all up as warm as possible and we ALL went outside to make snowmen! We made a whole family of huge snowmen in our side yard, and when we were nearly finished, Daddy even came home and came out to see what we were up to. He hefted a huge head onto a snowman that was taller than him (as I remember it) and helped us finish them all with faces and arms and scarves, etc. Honestly, it’s the only time I ever remember my hard-working daddy actually playing during the day on a weekday! And I remember the laughter and squeals.

I also remember being snowed in and Mother stopping her work to pop popcorn and gather us all around the kitchen table to read books and munch popcorn and play games. Mother also rarely quit working on the household chores, so this was a very special memory for me. It was a party I’ll remember my whole life!

I wonder sometimes what my boys remember about snow days. I remember them sledding around our field behind the house, and when they were small I remember them making tunnels and driving their trucks through and building igloos, but I can’t remember if I went out with them to make snowmen and play in it with them. I hope I did, but I do remember being delighted at having snow days for them to get to have an unexpected holiday. I hope snow days are happy memories for them as they are for me.

Unfortunately, our society today has become so focused on our own plans and our own schedules that snow days have become a burden to be endured instead of a gift to be enjoyed. What is so miserable about curling up in front of a warm fire and reading a good book while the snow piles up outside? Why must we ALWAYS be ‘on the go?’ Maybe snow is God’s way of slowing us down a bit and teaching us to enjoy this precious gift of a day to rest and enjoy one another instead of intensely pushing on.

Whatever your focus or situation, if you are blessed to live where there is snow, I would encourage you to enjoy it! If you have children home from school, make a party out of it! You’d be surprised how those good memories will help shape them into happy, well-adjusted people. Instead of rolling your eyes and gritting your teeth, try thanking God for the beauty of it all! And then…go build a snowman!!!

Snow Worship Lessons

Gentle Winter

Winter has finally arrived and once again I am amazed at the change it makes in our crazy world. I sit here on the sofa in front of a blazing fire and listen snuggly to the silence outside. And silence inside.

The skies are white as the huge snowflakes fall heavily onto the already fallen snow that covers the world in bright white beauty. Even the birds are silent today. I love the restfulness of it.

Early this morning Rick and I dressed and went over to our local McDonalds that is unlike any McDonalds I’ve ever seen. It is ‘the’ gathering place in our small town and is only a few blocks from our home. A number of ‘regulars’ were there. We love going and being spoken to and known—to a certain extent. The cashiers know not only what we like, but how we like it! They have the best biscuits and gravy and the best coffee and when you get that combination served up with friendly smiles by polite people surrounded with a sense of community and acceptance and welcome—it makes for one of the best breakfasts anywhere and a glorious start to a wonderful day.

Eventually, we came back home—cup of coffee in hand—to our own cozy quiet place to spend time with the Lord and each other. As I opened my Bible I realized how very blessed I am to be a child of the King, married to my favorite person in the whole world, with precious children and grandchildren out there safe and snug in their own homes while I sit here listening to my Father speak lovingly to me from the oh-so-familiar pages of the Letter He left to guide me and help me while the peace and silence that is winter surrounds me. This is rest in the truest sense of the word. And this is what I love about winter.P1010086

Technology

The bank we’ve been using since moving to VA was bought out by another bank recently. Apparently this happens on a fairly regular basis. I remember it happening to us a number of years ago, but it really wasn’t that big a deal back then. They gave us some free checks and told us how it would work and life went on pretty much as usual.

However, that was before the kind of technology that we have now! Oh, my goodness! What a mess this is! In fact, it became so cumbersome that we decided to switch banks and I’m still remembering companies that I’ve forgotten to give the new routing numbers for bill pay. This morning I was thinking as I sat on hold with yet another company that every time I don’t have to put a stamp on an envelope to pay a bill, I need to remember how very, VERY difficult electronic banking is when you move or need to change accounts for any reason, such as a bank buy-out!

And it’s been two weeks and we still don’t have our new checks! Some companies need a canceled check by mail instead of a number by phone, and so we’re waiting impatiently to get those silly little printed papers in the mail. I’m watching the mailbox like a child at Christmas! As I sat on hold this morning, I was thinking about our grandchildren growing up in a world that won’t know or remember mailing checks to pay bills, paying cash for groceries or restaurants, of being careful your wallet isn’t stolen because that $20 in it is so precious. Instead they’ll be concerned about someone getting access to ALL their savings and cash online, or stealing their debit card, or even their identity!

And trying to set up the online budget with a new bank without losing the history of our billpay…oh! What tangled web we weave! (And we’re not even trying to deceive!)

Ok, now for the ‘cheese’ with my ‘whine’… : Every time I’ve sighed and gritted my teeth for the past two weeks, I’ve reminded myself how very, VERY easy this online stuff is once I get it all set up again. No more sitting for hours trying to find two numbers I transposed in the budget book. No more praying the bank statement balances. No more waking in a cold sweat in the night wondering if I may have forgotten to write something down or pay a bill. Or…if I did, remembering it can be done in 5 seconds online and going right back to sleep smiling. Yes, when I’m complaining about the inconvenience of modern technology out of one side of my mouth, the other side is grinning big time and thanking God I’ve lived long enough to really appreciate what will eventually come out of all this inconvenience and frustration. Memories of the old ways do not stack up as the ‘good ole days’ in regard to budgeting and bill pay. Give me technology! And Lord, maybe just a little more patience!technology