Press Forward to 2012

 

I love things that are new. New clothes, new household items, new potatoes, a new Year.

As you ring in 2012 with your friends and family, may all the promise the year represents be yours. Every year comes with its own surprises, triumphs, and tragedies, so that when we look back we say we never saw that coming.

My wish for each of you is one of hope–that your talents will be used, your pursuits will be fruitful, your careers furthered, your friendships deepened, your faith renewed. May 2012 carry you closer to realization of your favorite dreams and fulfillment of your heart’s longings.

I’ve enjoyed the journey through 2012 with you. Your comments and feedback have been uplifting, helpful and fun.  Happy New Year.

Hebrews 12:1b-2a: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

A Teenage Girl in Trouble

According to the dictates of her culture, we know that Mary was a teenager, probably somewhere between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. She lived in Nazareth, a small village of about three hundred, and, again, as was the custom, was betrothed to Joseph, a man older than she. The engagement was a binding commitment, even though the marriage had not been consummated.

 She and Joseph could both trace their ancestry back to King David. Joseph’s town of birth was Bethlehem, so when the Roman government decreed that every man would return to the city of his birth, all the pieces were in place for God to fulfill His prophecy.

 Micah 5:2: “”But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to me the One to be Ruler in Israel.”

When the angel appeared to Mary and told her that she would conceive a child, she was baffled. To be pregnant and unmarried in that culture meant she could be stoned. No wonder she replied, “How can this be? I haven’t slept with a man.” 

Knowing how women in that culture were often not educated, I’ve wondered if Mary had ever read the prophecies, or if she had been told of the maiden God would choose to deliver His son. Did the young women of Mary’s day realize what God had foretold?

 Isaiah 7:14 “The Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”   

Mary’s response is amazing. Here she is, an unmarried girl with an uncertain future in a culture that won’t accept her condition without reprisal. Joseph could easily give her a writ of divorce. The Jewish leaders could insist she die.  She simply says, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your Word.” (Luke 2:38)

Is it any wonder God chose her to bring His gift into the world?

In a Christmas card I received from a crisis pregnancy center that my husband and I support, the writer mentioned that if God had waited until 2011 to send the Christ child, Mary could easily have become one of the pregnancy center’s clients. In our culture, she would be perceived as a teen in an unwanted pregnancy, a girl government-funded agencies would all too willingly counsel to abort.

Instead of facing the Jewish leaders of her village, Mary would navigate the waters of choice, a cleverly disguised cloak for destroying her child. She would have to stand up to the pressures of a boyfriend, and possibly a family, that would sway her away from her convictions. You have to ask yourself if the Christ child would have survived those eager to destroy Him, were He born today?

Praise God, in His wisdom, He didn’t wait. Jesus Christ was born and because of His coming, God adopted all of us as His children. Jesus as a man paid the price of eternal life by dying for everyone who believes.  Acts 16:31 “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, Joan

I attended my first Christmas party of the season last night. An annual event, the party is hosted every year by Joan, a woman I’ve known for about thirty years. She and her sister started the tradition together in the 1980’s and when her sister passed on, Joan continued in her absence. She’d first invited me to her Christmas bash about ten years ago.

The parties are lots of fun. A group of ladies from every walk of life—all acquaintances of Joan—come together for an evening of silly internet games, cookie swapping, an ornament exchange and a potluck. Each year a different  group assembles, dependent upon the date, the weather and personal schedules. Some women are retired, others are in high school, all are there for a good time.

But last night everyone in attendance came in a somber mood, because we all understood how close we had come to losing our effervescent hostess this year, and each of us were  praising God that He had seen fit to leave her with us.

Joan is an icon in my mind. She staunchly tells everyone that God has, is, and will continue taking care of her.

 Left alone at the age of twenty-seven to raise three small children while her unfaithful husband slept around, she landed a job as a cook at a local fraternity. She attended church where my husband and I worshipped.  He and another man from our church had helped her move into her house when she was able to afford one. Though the fraternities she worked for changed as the seasons passed, and her children married and left home, Joan continued cooking until she retired in 2009. For anyone who is or has raised children, knowing that Joan did it by herself while working long hours over a stove baffles most of us.

This summer, though, Joan faced an obstacle greater than those early years of raising kids. Rushed to a hospital when she collapsed, the emergency team of physicians discovered a massive tumor threatening to take her life. She stayed two days in the facility so the staff could stabilize her in order to operate.  Before the surgery she was told that she probably wouldn’t survive the surgery. Her comeback?  “God has always taken care of me.  I’ll be fine.”

To remove the tumor took four-and-a-half hours and four pints of blood.  The ugly growth weighed forty pounds. Joan recovered at the hospital for three weeks before being moved to a rehabilitation facility where she stayed the remainder of three months in recovery.

After the surgery the doctors informed  her that chances for a complete recovery weren’t good, her quality of life would be affected, that she would never drive again, that her life as she knew it probably would never return. She smiled and repeated what she’d always believed.  “God has always taken care of me.  I’ll be fine.”

Yesterday, before the party, she’d been to see her physician one more time.  The doctor declared her cancer-free, telling her that though she was still healing, she would make a full recovery. The physician also said that every doctor at the regional facility where she was treated had been called in to attend to her. Finally, the doctor admitted, “It is a miracle you are here.”

Joan just smiled. She already knew that.  Because God has, is and will always take care of her.

Merry Christmas, my wonderful, faith-driven friend.

From Pasadena to Springfield–Everybody Loves a Parade

Nobody Does It Better

 Where I live the Christmas parade is fifty-nine years old. I remember my parents taking me and my siblings to watch the annual event when we were small. Always held on the first Saturday in December, the parade has continued, like the post office—through rain, snow, sleet, or ice.

 Last year we stood under dripping umbrellas, shoe-deep in puddles along the street.  This year the sun came out and though we were dry, the temperatures hovered in the low thirties. Shiver weather.

 The hometown parade is an enigma—an eclectic group of entrants–nothing like those Hollywood versions you see on television. 

 You like horses? From the mounted sheriff’s posse that leads the procession down the street to the summer rodeo queen and her court, we have four-legged mounts that would make anyone proud. We watched the 4-H group and the drill team prance by, decked out in holiday finery. Of course, in this colder climate, most of the animals are dressed in shaggy fur beneath their saddles. You won’t see that in Hollywood.

 No horse group would be complete without their barn boys.  You know the ones, the guys following the horses down the street. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen them on television. I guess horses don’t poop in Pasadena, but here the four-legged critters lift their tails and slam dunk the asphalt without a blush. In the cold the steam, well, rises. The barn guys behind them skillfully lift the hot muffins  and deposit them in a rolling conveyance.

 Those conveyances are another attraction in themselves. This year the first one was a dune buggy pulling a wagon—except the dune buggy wouldn’t start and the barn boys were pushing it down the street. I wondered how they’d fare by the end of the three mile journey.  Another variety was an all-terrain vehicle pulling the necessary. A third  waste catcher was a tiny tractor chugging behind the waving tails.  But the one that got my vote was the guy with the wheelbarrow—two handlebars, a tire and a flat-bottomed shovel.  No horse muffin would defy him—he had it covered.

 What’s a hometown parade without the local high school bands? We had two, their drill teams proudly leading the instrumentalists along the parade route. A marching band is hard to listen to when you stand on the side of the street. As each section passes by you get their part of the melody so a tune like Santa Claus is Coming to Town is portioned out between the flutes and the tubas, like a tweeter and a woofer spaced around a gymnasium. But they sound good coming toward you and as they march away.

 I would be remiss not to mention the Christmas floats, for they represent the heart of the season-— from carolers on a wagon  to children dressed as shepherds, angels, Joseph and Mary. This year’s theme, Through the Eyes of a Child, seemed fitting since Christmas came through a baby. Luke 2:7 “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.” Imagine placing the eternal fate of the world on a tiny baby. God knew what He was doing.

  I mustn’t forget the fire departments in the parade.  Every volunteer agency showed up with their trucks—horns, bells, and whistles all primed to blow out your ear drums. You hope there’s no emergency while these guys drive down the street.

Not to be outdone, the garbage service rolled by as well—red and green decorations to camouflage the obvious . My husband hoped they’d hosed out the truck before the riders climbed aboard, tossing stocking caps to their audience.

 But my favorite entry was the Camp Creek Tractor Club. Yessiree, here they came, one by one, tractors from as far back as the 1920’s. All were washed and polished in reds, oranges, and greens, chugging down the street. Big tires, little tires and backfires. Their drivers were a diverse group—from the kid who looked to be about eight in his oversized Stetson, proving to the policemen patrolling the parade he could drive without a license, to the weathered farmer in his coveralls and beat-up straw  sucking on a Tootsie Pop. And every age in between. I lost count at fifteen tractors, but I know there had to be at least two dozen of them.

 Last, but not least, were the University of Oregon cheerleaders. My town sits near the school and everyone here applauds the Ducks in their first ever Pac-12 championship. Which means a lot of us hometown parade people will be heading to Pasadena January 2.  We might even take in their parade!

 But don’t worry, we’ll bring our own shovels. 

Where will you find the holiday?

Have you baked your first Christmas cookie yet? Hung your tinsel? Shopped until you dropped?

I listened with interest to a recent radio program where several individuals were asked about their best memories of past Christmases. Some remembered visits to grandparents, others recalled presents they’d received, and still others said they liked to celebrate the “religious” aspect of the holiday.

Religious aspect?

I don’t know about you, but without the biblical prophecies and their fulfillment, Christmas for me and my family would easily become an exercise in futility. If the day is based on nothing more than tinsel, shopping, baking and weariness, I can live without it. If the holiday is just a chance to feel good, eat too much, and spend more money than I should, my time would be better spent at the gym or in front of the fire reading a good book.

Christmas for  me is a time to remember when God showed His love for us by sending His son to live in our world.  Both the Old and New Testaments point to God’s promise of a Savior to save mankind. Isaiah, the prophet, foretold His arrival—

Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government there will be no end.  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”

So as you move on into this holiday season, keep Isaiah’s words tucked in your heart.  Remember Christmas began in a manger and not at Macy’s.