Don’t be content with a ‘nice’ Christmas

A number of years ago, we had a string of hard years and though the years were tough, the Christmas seasons were even harder.  One year we had a car accident on our way back from our single Christmas shopping day.  Suddenly we had to shop for a vehicle before and after Christmas day…with half of us sick with the flu.  Another season had an ugly issue that was carried way too far, making me scared for my own protection.  The next Christmas, my mother died.  The next…I was in a wheelchair.  Seriously??   I found myself not celebrating Christmas so much as stealing myself for the entire month of December.  One day that last year, I just cried out to God in frustration, “I just want a nice Christmas!!”  I heard Him prompt my spirit with , “Really?  THAT’S what you want?”  I was immediately ashamed.

A “nice” Christmas isn’t what He even wishes for us!  It wasn’t the selfishness of my request so much as the meagerness of it that caught me up short. What did I really mean by ‘nice’, anyway?  That life went smoothly?  That no one got sick, where everyone behaved themselves, that our possessions not only remained but increased?   Really?  Deep down, I wanted a pristine December where everything and everyone matched the ideal in my head.

Quietly,  Jesus patiently waits.  He watches us wish for a thimble of water when He has given us nothing less than the ocean of himself (Manning).  How can I ask or hope for anything more?  Because of salvation, He has given me everything I’ll ever need.  He even throws in bountiful blessings besides.  So each Christmas I need to remind myself that I can let go of my paltry expectations.  He can bring into my life what He knows I need – good or bad.

So this Christmas, I want to forget the vanity of the world and remember that this season isn’t about hoping for a nice one, but knowing that He is very much alive and actively loving us each day, giving us what we need and promising His presence as our only essential present. 

Show me how to trust, George

It was dinner time and the dining room with crowded with hundreds of children – all hungry, all expecting a meal.  George Mueller, their caretaker, knew there wasn’t any milk; in fact, precious else could be found in the kitchens, so he did what he always did: prayer.  “Lord, send us our daily bread.  Show us your provision.”  A woman from the kitchen called him.  there had been a knock at the back door of the kitchen.  Could he come and see?  The milk man’s cart had lost its wheel.  Not being able to reach his destination before the milk spoiled, he asked if the orphanage would be so kind as to take his supply.  The milk was immediately brought to the tables and the children were nourished once again.

Years earlier, George Mueller had lived in London.  It was the mid 1800s and his heart was moved to collect orphans at a time when no one else was doing so.  He saw so many children living on the streets that he was compelled to help them.  One fed, clothed, and housed child rolled into two until God turned into a whopping 10,000!  His ministry lasted for an amazing 30 years.

What strikes me most is that in all those years, George didn’t ask for a single penny.  Ever.  Yet over $7.5 million passed through his hands in his care for these children.  So how did he do it?  Nothing but trust in the Father who promised to not let one of his children go without what they truly needed.  George prayed for every brick, every cup of milk, every slice of bread.  He rented and built homes that housed 2,000 kids at a time.  That’s a hotel!!

Before social media and slick networking strategies, people learned of Gorge’s work and sent donations;  other times they’d send him something that he’d pawn.  Most often, people would be mysteriously moved to provide him what he prayed for like crates of bread, venison, rabbits and cakes.  The pattern was always the same: George cared for the kids and ran what today would be considered a big business yet prayed for every minute need.  Each time, before there was any desperation, the Lord provided.

One time, a woman sent him a diamond ring when things were particularly dire.  He laughed and danced for joy upon its arrival and before pawning it, etched the words Jehovah Jireh (the Lord, our provider) on his bedroom window with the diamond.  Whenever he was tempted to doubt God’s provision, he saw the sun shining behind those words.

When he was in his 70s, he traveled to over 42 different countries telling his story and in his absence, no child went hungry or lacked anything they needed.  At the end of his life, when asked how he did it, he simply said, “The Lord did it all – I  just asked and believed.”  This is the kind of faith I need.  If I ever express fear or worry, please, someone….remind me of George!

The smallest taste of homelessness

Every year I teach my students what juxtaposition is.  It’s a big word for something we all do commonly: look at two things side by side.  We don’t necessarily compare them, but we certainly note differences.  Right now, I’m humbled to be part of a group of compassionate folks who are caring for a homeless family.  At the same time, I’ve just returned from a trip to the Midwest.  Let me point out the juxtaposition that struck me today.

I like traveling but some aspects get old really fast: carrying all our stuff around,  not having our usual beds and bathroom and home-y comforts.  Oh yes, let’s not forget the hours of waiting at an airport with little to do.  Was it worth it for who we visited?  A resounding YES!  However, this morning it struck me: these minor inconveniences were temporary!  That was chosen!  We were warmly greeted and fed and cared for and housed everywhere we went by amazingly wonderful people.  Though not flush with money, if there was a need, we could buy it.  We rented a car and they upgraded us- for free- to a 2014 model no less. We ate well and never wondered how that might happen.  Before, during and after, our family was keenly aware of the hand that gave us these gifts and we thanked Him often.

Today I’m humbled.  This homeless family is drifting….carrying around all their stuff, having need for essentials and not being able to buy it.  They have to ask for housing, for beds, for socks, for Pete’s sake!  The source of their meals is a question each day.  I can imagine that not everyone treats them solicitously.

Sometimes in our middle class world we forget those who are not as rich as we are.  And we are.  I’m guilty of it, too.  In fact, I think this is a blind spot of more of us has than we realize.  A song I’ve been listening to lately has this line: “When all you’ve got is nothing, there’s a lot to go around.” Since we all have a whole lot more than nothing,  why don’t we spread it around a little more liberally?  Answers usually point to looking out for our own, but God’s already doing that so the job’s taken.  When I was making the meal I’m sharing tonight, I felt Him ask me to do it for Him and I do so gladly – and I’m thankful for the opportunity.  In this Christmas season, I hope I can re-assert my belief in giving with an open hand….and doing so liberally.   Won’t you join me?

It’s in the genes

I recently went back to my home state of Michigan and had a wonderful time.  I expected that.  But what I didn’t expect is the clear, strong bonds of genetics.  When you live apart from your family so long, you forget that you’re indelibly imprinted.  I exhibit plenty of my paternal and maternal qualities most days but it wasn’t until my oldest was in his teens that I realized that the genes had infiltrated him, too.  Now I’m more and more aware of owning those qualities not just in myself but also in my other kids.

I heard about my grandpa who had such a lead foot that when he was driving the fire truck to a call, he took a corner on two wheels.  Nice.  (I’ve never taken any corner that fast but I got my need for speed comes from both sides.)  I heard how my mother loved to help other people.  She didn’t have a lot to give, but she gave what she could.  My brother has a weird sense of humor.  I do too, and it’s sure come in handy as I work with junior high kids.  Another relative makes hard decisions that others don’t always understand, but she keeps her head up and keeps her ears tuned to God.

For someone who doesn’t fit in here in my adopted state, it’s quite refreshing to experience little things that just feel right.  Like when I hear someone else say and do the same things I say and do, odd as they are.  ‘It’s not just me!’ feels good!  It’s also nice to anticipate what someone will say and be right.  Even after not spending the last 29 years together, I knew when my brother walked in he’d say, “Sister Sue!  What’s up?”  Sure enough, he didn’t let me down.  When my dad hears an opportunity to say a pun, he takes it.  So do I.  My second son has bordered on obnoxious as he’s been practicing the craft.  When he got together with grandpa, it was one corny line after another.  They loved it.  The rest of us endured.

Another bonus was being with my cousins and girlfriends who reinforced that my idiosyncrasies have an origin.  My daughter is a bit chagrined whenever I prompt someone to take a picture from the waist up.  Sunday night when my dear cousins and I posed for a pic, it was my cousin who piped up, prompting my daughter to take it from the waist up.  “See?  It’s not just me!!”  Other occasions helped my daughter realize that her mom’s quirks come from other women’s mouths too.  I have some unusual bedtime rituals I do with her and sometimes she says, “What other mother does this?”  Now she knows.  My friends/family in Michigan do the same thing.

I guess it’s harder than I realized to be so unique out here.  It was great to go home and feel so at home.  True, I didn’t get to go in my childhood bedroom anymore…that belongs to someone else now, but being around people who are like me and get me felt better than ever.  You can’t really understand or appreciate that until you move away.  I miss that familiarity but I’m also proud that I’ve forged another way, too; something different than the rest.  It’s not for everybody but it was meant for me.  The cool thing is that I can go back and be me, at home… 3,000 miles away from home.