Friday, December 30, 2011

What's your goal for the new year?

Last year I ran across a blog by Matt Green. He was walking across the United States, from New York City to the Pacific Ocean in Oregon. It took him from March 2010 until August 2010. On his blog, he shared fascinating pictures and interesting insights. I just received an e-mail from him that he is starting a new walk, this time to cover every city street of New York City. That doesn't sound quite so exciting or even challenging, but he has calculated (and if I remember right he is an engineer, so I am sure he calculates accurately) that there are 7500 miles of streets in NYC. That is way more than the mere 3100 miles he walked across America.

I am pretty excited for him and can't wait to start following his latest blog. Oh, to have a goal, a dream, an aspiration. Oh, that's right, I have that. And with the new year at my footsteps it is time to get back at achieving that goal.

Mine may not be as inspiring at Matt's, but hopefully you will continue to follow me as I continue walking my own streets towards becoming a published writer. Have a Safe and Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Why does Christmas get "old" so fast?

I can’t believe that Christmas was just two days ago and already people are hanging it up for another year. My thought is that at this time of the year we should just be getting started. We have the whole New Year to kick off yet. Why should anybody be done celebrating? Do they really feel that Christmas is one day, when it is a whole season? Or do they think that the season of Christmas is that entire month of frantically searching for the right gifts and once the gifts are opened the season is over?

When I asked people how their Christmas was a quite a few answered with, “I’m glad it’s over.” And they weren’t being “bah-humbug” about it. They just wanted to get on with the rest of their lives.

To be honest, it is easy for me to feel that way too. But when I think about it, it takes me too long to decorate the house and put up the tree for me to feel that any of this is over. I could easily sing Christmas carols all year long. And did I sew that poinsettia skirt to wear one day of the year? Why does this guy get to dress like this all the time and I can’t?

Probably for the same reason that I can't eat cookies all the time either.

I hope you had a wonderful day, whether you are done with it or not.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The New-born Baby

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn. Luke 2:6-7

Me: Wow, this must be the right place. Excuse me, can you tell me if that is Mary?

Cow: Yes, it is. With her husband Joseph and their brand-new baby.

Goat: You should have been here earlier. It was like a miracle when the baby was born.

Me: Really? Why is that?

Goat: I really can’t put my hoof on it.

Cow: Me either. But it was beautiful. It was like total peace and serenity suddenly came over this stable.

Goat: And this light seemed to be coming straight out of the baby. Only it wasn't a light. I can’t explain it.

Me: Then I am pretty disappointed that I missed it. I have been all over the countryside the last few months, looking for Mary. I can’t believe that I finally found her.

Cow: Why have you been looking for her so long and so hard?

Me: That’s what I don’t know. I thought I was drawn to her but now that she has the baby, I think that all along it was the baby that I was looking for.

Goat: But here you are and you still don’t know?

Me: No, I don’t. But I am going to figure it out before I’m through.

(The pictures are once again from Val's trip to Kenya last year.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Magical Christmas Eve

As any college student knows, there is something about coming home for Christmas. You have just survived finals, another semester is history. Maybe you haven’t been home in a while, and maybe you didn’t think you wanted to go home, but Christmas is only a few days away and you suddenly are drawn back to where you spent your childhood.

That was what that Christmas felt like to me, when I was a sophomore in college. The big tradition then, as now, for my family was the Christmas Eve service at church. We would all light our candles, the overhead lights would be turned off and we would sing Silent Night in the stillness of the holy night.

The thing is that particular year, our church was being remodeled. There was scaffolding up and down the aisles and between the pews, the decorations on the altar were sparse. To top things off our pastor had recently broken his arm and had it in a cast. Was it still a magical night? You bet. For a twenty year old, it was as magical as it could get.

I took these pictures over my lunch hour today. They might have turned out better had I turned on the lights, but being all alone in this big ol' church, I didn't want to take a chance on disturbing anything.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

More Christmas Memories

The fall of 1977, my sister Pat headed off to college, leaving me, a shy and insecure sophomore in high school, behind. That year for Christmas she started the tradition of getting me an ornament each year. 

Over the years, I’ve managed to accumulate many other tree trimmings, so many that I can’t get all of them on the tree. But I always find room for Pat’s.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Where is your shepherd?

 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified.  Luke 2:8-9 The Message Bible

Me: Good evening. It’s quiet out here.

Sheep 1: Seriously? You should have been ten minutes ago.

Sheep 2: No kidding. It was ridiculous.

Me: What happened? And where is your shepherd?

Sheep 1: We were just all having a quiet evening, doing some grazing and thinking about laying down to sleep, when all of a sudden, there was this light in the sky.

Sheep 2: And these people were in the sky and they were singing.

Sheep 3: They were angels.

Sheep 2: How do you know what an angel is?

Me: It doesn’t matter. Just tell me what happened? This sounds amazing.

Sheep 1: These angels – if that’s what they were – told our shepherds that their Savior was born in Bethlehem and that they should go meet him.

Me: Really?

Sheep 2: And so our shepherds left us out here by ourselves.

Sheep 3: I think when angels tell you to do something, you better do it. I think that one of the angels is still up there, watching over us until our shepherds come back.

Sheep 2: Are you nuts? What are you talking about?

Sheep 3: I think there is something magical about tonight.

Me:  I do too. Did they say anything else?

Sheep 1: I think one of them said that there is a baby in a manger and his mother is Mary and –

Me: What? Did you say Mary? I’ve been looking for a woman named Mary who is going to have a baby.

Sheep 1: Well, you best get going then, I think this is your gal.

Me: Well, I just came from Bethlehem, but I guess I will head back there. Thanks for all your help. I hope the remainder of your night is peaceful.

Sheep 2: I do too.

(Pictures were taken by my daughter Val at Saikeri, Kenya, when she was there volunteering last year.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

You may or may not have picked up on this from last Thursday’s blog, but I love Christmas carols. How can you not? All the old songs that you sang as a child, knew by heart. I never understood why we only sang them in December.

I wanted to share with you the story of a different Christmas carol each week, but didn’t quite know what to write. While on the internet looking up one of my favorite carols, it dawned on me.

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! Alles schläft; einsam wacht

Nur das traute heilige Paar. Holder Knab im lockigten Haar,

Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh! Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

Ok, so it is pretty easy to guess which song that is. But do you know what the actual translation says?

Silent night! Holy night! All are sleeping, alone and awake

Only the intimate holy pair, Lovely boy with curly hair,

Sleep in heavenly peace! Sleep in heavenly peace!

Did you always wonder how they could translate from one language to another and still make the words rhyme? Well now you know - they changed a lot of the words. Also, the original song in German was six verses and we only sing three in English. Don’t you want to know what the other verses say?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A not-drive-by Santa

This will no doubt be the Christmas story which causes my daughter to disown me for all time. But some Christmas stories are too good to remain within the realm of the family unit; some need to fly and be free.

Val was still in high school and driving her own car to school. It was the last day of school before Christmas break and there had been snow the night before. As she was rounding a sharp corner a few miles from our house, her car slid into the ditch. Two men in a four-wheel drive pickup drove up as she was making calls from her cell phone.

“Can we pull you out?” they offered. She was much obliged. As one of them was getting a chain from the back of his truck, another vehicle pulled up.

“What happened here?” It was a round man in a full white beard and wearing a red hat trimmed in white fur.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Val was not happy about being late for school and not happy with this jolly old elf.

The two strangers pulled her car out of the brush on the side of the road and the man in the red hat handed them a twenty. “Thank you so much. Buy yourselves some beer with the money.”

I don’t know what these two young men thought, but they took the bill, nodded their thanks and drove off. Val continued scowling. It took her a year or two to see the humor in the whole situation. What kind of Santa gives somebody money for beer? In her mind it would have been so much easier if her step-dad, on his way home from playing Santa, would have just kept driving.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My Continuing Search

So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendent of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant. Luke 2:4-5 The Message

Me: Excuse me. It is awful busy in this town.

Donkey: The king wanted to count all of the people in this land, so he told everyone to go back to the town of the ancestors. I guess a lot of people are from Bethlehem.

Me: Looks like. I am trying to find a young woman named Mary. I went to Nazareth looking for her, and they told me that she would be here.

Donkey: That’s her and her fiancé Joseph over there. I brought them here. It was a lot easier than the work that I usually do. Even though she’s going to have a baby, she doesn’t weigh as much as the carts I usually pull.

Me: I see. What are she and Joseph doing talking to that man?

Donkey: They are looking for a place to spend the night. They have relatives in town, but all their houses are filled. I don’t know where they are going to stay.

Me: It looks like she could have the baby anytime.

Donkey: If you say so. Who are you anyway?

Me: Just someone who is trying to find out who Mary is and why she is so special.

Donkey: I wish I could help you. I could tell right away when I met her that she was special. She told Joseph that she could walk all the way here from Nazareth, but he insisted she ride and that’s why he borrowed me from my owner. I don’t think they have much money. I hope they find a place to stay.

Me: What about you? Where will you stay?

Donkey: I’m used to sleeping outside. What about you? Where will you sleep?

Me: I don’t know. Even though I have traveled a lot the last few days, I’m not tired. Maybe I will go out into the countryside. Enjoy the peace and quiet away from the city.

Donkey: Well, have a good night and maybe we will meet again.

Me: Maybe. In the meantime, I still have to figure out why I am drawn to this woman Mary. But it will have to wait until morning now.

(This weekend, as last, the pictures are from my daughter Val's trips to Africa.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Piano

When I was a kid, I felt that I had everything I needed. Half of my clothes were hand-me-downs and the rest my mom sewed. I didn’t get a new bike until my twelfth birthday and the bike I had before that? You wouldn’t even believe it if I told you, but her name was Daisy. (Maybe that will be another blog.) We didn’t have many toys because we had ten acres in our backyard and 40 acres across the road to roam and have adventures. When it was too cold or too dark outside, we had the basement.

Dad had built a pool table in the middle of the room, which could be covered to use for ping-pong. We also had the magical dollhouse which Dad had made us one year for Christmas. And when we tired of all of that, we had the piano.

The piano in my parent’s basement was beautiful, an antique that Dad had picked up at a bar years before I was born. It was a tall upright with wood carvings. He brought it home and down the stairs before there was a corner in the stairs, so that the piano basically was never going to leave. After many years in the dampness, it was warped and out of tune beyond repair.

My sister Pat and I didn’t care though. We had a few old music books and we taught ourselves to play the easier songs. One of the books was of Christmas carols and we divided all of the songs up, the ones marked with blue were for Pat to play and I had the ones marked with red. I have no idea why we did that or how we decided who got what songs. We only picked the carols which we knew, so that without knowing the meanings of all of the musical notations, we could still figure out how to play them reasonably well.

When my mom sold their house, one of my big regrets was leaving that piano behind. I kept the music books, though. And I actually don’t think it was until I was on my own with my own piano that I taught myself to play the Christmas carols marked in blue.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

One Christmas Miracle

Earlier this year, I received a free book in the mail, "Christmas Miracles". I started reading it, but couldn't get into it because it was March by then, and I wasn't in a Christmas kind of mood. I put the book away and started reading it again last week. The stories are all pretty good, some are very moving - to the point of moving me to tears. They are all short, which is great for a quick read while waiting for dinner to cook or during my lunch break.

All of these stories got me thinking about what Christmas miracles I may have experienced. The first one that comes to mind is Christmas 1990.

Nick was four years old, Val only eight months. I was still married to my first husband and we had driven to Colorado to spend Christmas with his parents. Some time in the afternoon on New Year's Day we started the twenty hour drive back home. My husband's plan was to drive straight through; we had done it before and thought we would do it again, even though the forecast was for a winter storm over the Plain States.

Sure enough, just before midnight, ice descended across Nebraska and brought us to a crawl. All along the freeway, other cars had pulled to the side of the road to wait out the storm. As our Ford Tempo slid along the highway, I begged my husband to pull over also.

"What would we do then? We can't sit here all night," he answered.

I gestured to the parked vehicles. "They seem to think it is better to wait til morning and a salt truck."

He kept going, with the driver side tires just off of the asphalt and into the gravel for traction. All I could do was pray and keep checking the kids, sound asleep in the backseat. At one point, the car did slide off of the road. Somehow, with me now manning the stick shift and steering wheel, their father was able to push the two-door back unto the road.

After many hours and only a few miles, an exit sign appeared in the headlights. "Please can we pull off and find a hotel?"

"We can't afford it," he growled.

"We can't afford not to," I answered.

He eased the car off of the freeway and down the exit ramp, where the car slid over a curb.

"Are you happy now? That probably damaged the car."

"I don't care, just pull into that Holiday Inn."

It was 3:30 am by the time we got up to our room, each with a sleeping child in our arms. This was years before cell phones, so I called my mom in Wisconsin from the phone in our room.

"I am so sorry to wake you up, but we are in a hotel room near Omaha. I suppose you heard about the storm."

She hadn't been sleeping after all, she had heard about the ice storm and had been worried sick about us. God had been with us, I assured her. We would be home safe and sound sometime the next day.

Miracle? Some may say not. But we made it safely to that hotel and safely home the next day. The Tempo didn't suffer any damage from running over the curb. Whatever you call it, God had been with us.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What's the News?

A deep, reverential fear settled over the neighborhood, and in all that Judean hill country people talked about nothing else. Everyone who heard about it took it to heart, wondering, “What will become of this child? Clearly, God has his hand in this.” Luke 1:65-66 The Message

Me: So what is everyone talking about?

Dog: Well, you knew that Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth had a baby, didn’t you?

Me: No, I didn’t. I’m new to town.

Dog: They are a really old couple. Nice though. They throw their scrapes out to me. Anyway, they are really old and never had any kids, and then all of a sudden she got pregnant.

Me: Really?

Dog: But here’s the really wild part. When Zachariah found out they were going to have a baby, he suddenly couldn’t talk at all.

Me: Why was that?

Dog: The people say that it is because he didn’t believe that God could do this. But you didn’t let me finish. Today, when he wrote down that he wanted to name the baby John, suddenly he could talk again. He said that it is because he obeyed God.

Me: How did he obey God?

Dog: He named the baby John. Nobody could figure out why. Zachariah said that is the name that God chose for the baby. And that the baby is going to be very special.

Me: How is he going to be special?

Dog: I don’t know.

Dog 2: I do.

Me: Well, hello, I didn’t see you laying there.

Dog 2: It all has to do with Elizabeth’s cousin. She is going to have a baby too. And they say that baby is going to be even more special than John. John was born to lead the way for Mary’s baby.

Me: How do you know that?

Dog 2: Why don’t you go visit Mary and find out.

Me: Maybe I will have to do that. Where can I find her?

Dog 2: She lives in Nazareth.

Me: Well, thank you both for all of your help. I will have to check this out.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Dreams or something else?

A group of toys are in the snow, huddled around a fire. “Might just as well go to bed and start dreaming about next year,” says one of the toys.

“I haven’t any dreams left to dream,” Suzy the doll sobs.

They start to turn to go, but they hear a sound. They pause. Is it a jingle bell?

They look to the heavens and see a faint light breaking through the thick clouds. The light grows until it is a red beacon.

“Why, it’s Santa!” the toys peal. “And Rudolph’s leading the way!”

Seriously, who doesn’t tear up when they hear those words! These toys are in utter despair. They have prayed to find children to love, but they have just about given up. And then, it isn’t just Santa who saves them, it is their friend and fellow misfit, Rudolph.

I am pretty confident that it never crossed the minds of the creators of this movie back in 1964, but I see some Bible parallels. Jesus came to Earth to live among us, feel our pain, live in shame and no one ever saw it coming that he would be the one to rescue us from the island of misfits.

I know, you are thinking, Chris that is craziness. And this really wasn't my plan for this blog, I was thinking all day that I wanted to write about hanging onto our dreams. But sometimes I gotta just type what comes out. Still something to think about though.

Enjoy the start of the Christmas season.