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100_0718.jpgI usually write a devotional piece to post in My Devotional, but in honor of Christmas I thought I would share a Christmas story with you.  The story is a true story about my mother, my sisters and me during one Christmas that we will never forget, I call the story The Special Gift of Christmas.

South Hampton, Long Island was absolutely charming during Christmas. Karen could not wait to arrive at her mother’s house for the holidays. The drive was a long drive from Princeton, New Jersey and it had started to snow.

The house on Lee Avenue in South Hampton was over two hundred years old. As you entered the back door you walked into a breezeway which led to a charming kitchen and a rather large room which was used as the dining room. A black wrought iron chandelier lit the room with a golden light. The living room was filled with built-in bookcases lined with fabulous old books. A beautiful fireplace graced the room only adding to its’ charm.

Doris was leasing the house during the winter months. She had lived in this part of Long Island for five years now.  In previous years she had successfully sold real estate. The market was experiencing a depression, leaving Doris no alternative but to create another income. She designed her own house cleaning and house sitting business. It was a brilliant idea, because most residents in this affluent community owned several homes and only arrived on weekends. Consequently she could clean numerous houses each week.

Karen, her oldest daughter lived in Princeton, and worked in Manhattan. Lynne was nineteen and still lived at home. Susan was twenty six, and lived in Vermont. The holidays always brought the family back together.

During the month of December Doris and Lynne helped make gift baskets for the poor at the local church. Sister Bernadette was heading up the project and when they had finished making enough baskets, they delivered them.

One of their deliveries was to a young woman living in a motel. Maria and her husband had four small children. Maria’s husband, Alan was ill in the hospital. Doris introduced herself and Lynne to the woman. Doris asked the mother what the children’s names were. Maria spoke softly, “Samantha is nine months old, Peter is seven and my oldest. Billy is four and Dan is just turning three.” When she finished speaking she glanced down at her feet, clearly self-conscious of her circumstances. Doris tried to make the young woman more comfortable because hard times were no stranger, and she knew all about trying to hold onto your pride. “How is your husband, Sister Bernadette said that he was in the hospital.” Maria looked sad and replied “Yes, he has been there for several weeks now, we don’t think that he’ll be home for Christmas.” A tear slid down her cheek and she brushed it away as she turned toward her son, Billy. “Billy, you can go out and play now, Peter is home.” Billy had to wait until Peter came home from school to play. He had no coat of his own, and shared one with his brother Peter. 

Her heart was clearly burdened as she got back into the car with Lynne and Sister Bernadette. She asked if there was something more that they could do for the family. Sister Bernadette thought they might be able to get some funding from another organization in town. By the end of the week, they had received a check in the amount of sixty dollars. She knew that the amount of money she had would never afford her to buy each child a coat and shoes.

As she sat at the counter of the local coffee shop, she started to chat with the owner. She told him about Maria’s family and how she wished that she could do more. The store was small and other people sitting nearby could overhear the conversation. One by one, each person came over and handed Doris some money for the family. Even the owner of the coffee shop contributed to the collection.

When she arrived at her first customer’s house, she told her story with such joy. The woman of the house disappeared upstairs, while Doris busied herself in the kitchen. She returned with money in an envelope for Doris to give to the family. Customer after customer gave to Maria and her family. By the end of the week she had collected a total of seven hundred and twenty dollars.

The Christmas shopping spree was done with excitement as coats, hats, gloves and some toys were purchased for each child. Kaye a good friend, offered to take the children shopping so she could buy each one a pair of new shoes. Afterwards they had stopped by to see Maria to make arrangements for Christmas Eve. Doris said, “I have a surprise for you how would your family like a Christmas tree?”

The next day Lynne and Doris purchased some Christmas ornaments and a tree stand. They went to a nearby Christmas tree farm to pick out a tree. The starting price was forty dollars and they only had thirty dollars left in the envelope. Doris knew that she had already experienced so many giving hearts she decided to approach the owner. She explained to him her predicament and he cordially responded “Lady, go pick out whatever tree you would like.” Doris didn’t want to take advantage of his generosity. “I would feel more comfortable if you would select one for us,” she said. He walked over and glanced at his lot of trees. He picked out one of the most beautiful tree he could find and put it in the trunk of their car.

Lynne helped put the tree in the stand and placed the ornaments and lights next to the tree. Although Billy, Dan and Peter were all jumping up and down, the baby remained asleep in her cot. Even Maria could hardly contain her own child-like joy.”Oh Lynne and Doris how can I every repay you?” Lynne replied “You already have, just seeing you all so happy is thanks enough.” They left the family to decorate their tree, tomorrow was Christmas Eve. 

When Karen drove up the driveway, there were numerous other cars belonging to friends and family. The snow was still falling and her arms were full of gifts as she walked into the house. Her mother and sister had clearly outdone themselves the table was filled with all kinds of goodies to eat.

Susan had just arrived from Vermont and was admiring the Christmas tree decorated in an abundance of ornaments and lights. After all the guests had gone home they all helped to clean up. Annie, an old friend of Lynne’s was also spending the night. Karen noticed that her mother didn’t look well, as she said, “Mom, are you running a fever, you look flushed.” Her mother said “Yes, I think I am coming down with a bug of some kind.” Karen thought a moment and said, “It’s no wonder Mom, with all the hard work you do and the Christmas preparation for us and Maria. What if Lynne and I deliver the gifts with Susan and Annie?” Doris was quiet in her thoughts and then said “Okay, I think you’re right.” She knew how sick she felt, as she walked into her bedroom and closed the door.

Doris rather enjoyed the thought of them sharing in the thrill of giving to the less fortunate. She climbed into bed and turned out the light and thought about how proud she was of her daughters and she knew that they would do a good job.

They all piled into the car each carrying some presents for Maria and her family. Once the car was packed, they giggled at how they looked like they were riding in Santa’s sleigh. The snow had accumulated and the driveway to the motel was almost invisible.

As Karen drove up the hill leading to the motel she saw a manger and nativity scene in the distance. A bright light shone on the brown wooden frame protecting Mary and the baby Jesus from the snow. However, as she got closer to the sign, she realized that her eyes had played a trick on her. What was thought to be a nativity was actually just the motel sign.

Lynne knocked three times, as planned. Maria had told them the children would surely be asleep by 9 o’clock. She stood looking at all the gifts stacked on the covered porch. Maria peeked out the door. “Merry Christmas” Lynne said. “Merry Christmas to you Lynne and your mother” Maria replied. The joyful task of placing the children’s presents under the tree would surely be the special gift for Maria.

They all got back into the car and were warmed by the event on this frosty Christmas Eve. Karen drove back past the motel sign and was reminded of what she thought she had seen earlier. As she drove down the long driveway she told the girls the story. All of a sudden, Annie’s eyes grew as big as saucers. She squealed, “I saw it too, the nativity scene, I saw it as we drove up the driveway!”

“And she gave birth to her first child, a son.  She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn. Luke 2:7

Karen walked into her mother’s bedroom. The room was aglow with pink light reflected from a nearby lamp. She gently covered her mother with another blanket. She whispered, “Mommy we delivered the packages, and by the way thank you for giving me the best Christmas I have ever had.”

Early Christmas morning Susan put the coffee on, and Lynne stacked each person’s gifts near their seat. As Karen made a fire, she thought that the living room looked just like a Christmas card. There were lots of hand-made gifts created with love waiting to be opened. They were wrapped with the finest detail and they hated to disturb how lovely they had looked under the tree. Doris was feeling a little better because of the excitement of Christmas morning. Just as they were all about to start unwrapping their gifts, the telephone rang. Susan answered the telephone it was Peter calling to say Merry Christmas.

Susan handed the telephone to her mother. The voice on the other end said “Doris”  Doris answered “Yes, Peter, Merry Christmas.” On the other end Doris could hear the excitement in Peter’s voice. Then he said, “Doris, I know that you told me that you are Santa’s helper, but I just wanted you to know that I will never forget you.” As she hung up the telephone her eyes were filled with tears of joy. The room was silent as they each embraced the moment. 

The treasure wasn’t found in any of the beautifully wrapped presents underneath the tree that year. It was found through experiencing the special gift of Christmas. 

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least

of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:46 

 

 

In a town nearby there is an old mill which was filled with all kinds of artisans.  I would look forward to my visits.  Each time I went there over the last five years, the shopkeepers seemed to improve the interior a bit more. Whenever I visited you could hear the sound of saws and see men building new shops for yet another artisan.  It was a place for students to exhibit their work, visit artists and housed so many beautiful shops offering all kinds of beautiful things in this huge three story mill.

Yesterday I drove by the remains of so much work, destroyed by fire and all of a sudden my worries seemed to vanish.  All those people who had invested their time and energy and funds into a joint effort that was ravaged by the fire.  I sat in my car looking at the devastation and thought about each shop representing that person’s work. I thought about all the crushed spirits of these people.

I had been consumed all day with my woes and cried at the thought of my burdens.  Then I turned on the news and saw so much tragedy being reported all over the world.  Just like the mill, there were circumstances in the world that people were enduring which certainly shook their lives and perhaps their faith.

Yesterday was a very gray, cool and windy day.  The starkness of it seemed to spell sadness, but instead it was as if that very starkness made me look at God’s blessings.  When my day at started out, I had read in my devotional:

“Then He spat on the ground and made mud from the spittle and smoothed the mud over the blind man’s eyes and told him, “Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam” (the word “Siloam” means “Sent”).  So the man went where he was sent and washed and came back seeing?”  John 9:6.7

Perhaps Jesus was trying to show us that when He takes His spirit and covers our eyes in the mud, we are able to truly see how He blesses our lives everyday.  We are able to see and feel compassion for others because we have endured the mud in our own lives. Through our own adversity we are able to see the pain of others instead of dwelling on our own.  I am not a Bible scholar and certainly a pastor or theologian could bring life to this scripture that would normally elude me.  But maybe, just maybe the way I saw today brings this scripture to life.

Jesus somehow removed my blindness by showing me how not to dwell on my own suffering.  By taking the mud of my own suffering, with His spirit He had led me to know compassion.  Through that compassion I was able to see the pain of others instead and pray for them.  I believe my wealth is the treasure of compassion that the Lord has taught me to know.

Sitting in that car I couldn’t help but feel that the Lord had sent me there to witness the pain of others.  He took the mud of my burdens and made me see.

“We went through fire and through water: But thou brought us out into a wealthy place.” Pslam 66:12

It seems to me that there is no coincidence that I was encouraged by two distinct messages yesterday.  That of a friend who wrote about blessings on her blog, which I shared on my daily blog today.  The other message of why we are blessed  was the subject of yesterday’s sermon at Grace Chapel which strengthened my heart and my conviction of purpose.

Each message, though different in content, clearly spoke to my heart about why we are blessed.  A message I so dearly needed, feeling a bit weary by trials this week.  The most amazing part is that as soon as I remembered why we are blessed my energy came back.  I believe that when we focus on our lack, we become weary and when we focus on our blessings it strenghtens us. 

We all need to be renewed in our strength, and sometimes a story, a sermon or a gentle touch is all that we need.  I thought it fitting to share what I heard yesterday.  I can hardly articulate in this short post, the magnificent sermon on Genesis Twelve, verse one through four, which I heard by Jeanette Yep, Pastor of Global and Regional Outreach at Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts.

So today I thought I would leave this link so that you may enjoy such a moving and amazing sermon on how we are Blessed to be a blessing.  It is my way of sharing the blessing that I have received.

Blessings, Karen 

Genesis 12

The Call of Abram

 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. 3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” 4 So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran.

 

Praise

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:25-27 

Sometimes I get lost in the busyness of life and forget just how big  God really is, and how much He is with us in even the smallest details, as well as the times of adversity. I was reminded of just how much the Holy Spirit guides us, warns us, and prepares us, if we are sensitive to the still small voice within.

On Monday, I awoke in the morning with one of those feelings that mothers know so well. I sat up in bed and recalled the poem that little Sarah used to love to recite when we read the book Madeline. I could hear Sarah at three reciting with me… “In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines, they left the house at half past nine…the smallest one was Madeline.”

I always loved it when the nun, Miss Clavel, who took care of Madeline sensed something was wrong. That evening, the girls are tucked into bed for the evening. Miss Clavel goes to bed too, but she wakes up with a fright, “something’s not right”.  In the story, as Miss Clavel runs to the bedroom where the orphans are asleep, she discovered that Madeline has had an Appendicitis attack.  It seems her feelings were accurate, something was wrong.  I had been feeling like that since the night before.

I sat up in bed and read the Bible to comfort my soul. I said “Lord, I feel so anxious today, like something is wrong, but I trust that you will keep us safe.” In my prayer I prayed for my family and I knew in my spirit that I should rest. I stayed home all day and just rested for a change. No crafts, no art, no telephone, no computer, no rides in the country or form of busyness, I just rested. 

Then at exactly 6 o’clock the telephone rang, “Mom, there was a terrible car accident”. It was Sarah, my nineteen year old daughter who attends college just an hour away. As she explained how much damage was on her car, all I wanted to know was that she was okay. She has not a bump, scratch or hurt, even though her car looks like a truck hit it and she is terribly upset about her car. 

I quickly phoned my other daughter to tell her I was on my way to Sarah. Ashley said “Mom I was in a car accident too, I was just going to call you. I’m okay and my car only has a scratch, the policeman was nice and the guy who hit me too. I got all the information, Mom”. Just sixteen and so mature. Sarah called back to say that the tow truck had arrived and I waited for her to phone back with directions. When the phone rang again it was Ashley, “Mom, I am on my way to pick up Sarah, you don’t have to worry”. They came home, we ate, we talked and I was so thankful.

I got down on my knees and praised God for keeping my girls safe. I didn’t even want to think about what could have been. Prayer is a might covering, it doesn’t always mean that adversity will be magically brushed away.  Rather, prayer helps us to be bathed in the protection of the Lord.  It opens the window for His peace, so that we can be still in the middle of adversity, and have faith that He will see us through.

As I relived the day and the night before, I was so aware of the promptings of the Holy Sprit.  My husband was away on a business trip, and usually I go on a day trip while he is away.  Yet, I felt so led to just stay home and rest, and therefore I was available for my girls when they called.  That feeling inside that something was wrong prompted me to stay in prayer and on put my armor of mindfulness.  That feeling I just used to think was fret, was actually a warning that I must stay close to the Lord.  I always find such peace when I read the Bible, and often I am able to recognize a scripture that meets my current needs.

Tuesday morning I awoke with such a peace and a spirit of thankfulness. All that I can say is Thank you. Thank you Lord, every now and then I sing His praise for always being there, but today I want to shout it from the top of the mountains.

 

“O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.”
Psalm 95:1

 

 

The Storms of Life

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves and it was completely calm.” Matthew 8:26

I watched from my window as the trees swayed with the windy day. My eye caught a remarkable sight. I watched as this bird perched high above the others clung to the branch he was on in a large evergreen tree. The tree swayed feverishly caught in the gust of the wind. He did not budge…he hung on despite the moving branch. I thought about how small he was and how dainty his strength compared to the strength of the wind, yet he was able to hang on never-the-less. Today my petty worries were getting the best of me. Thoughts of fears about my children, finances, and minor difficulties were festering at me like the wind. These thoughts were blowing through my mind making me fearful, and pecking at an otherwise glorious day. As I watched that bird hanging onto that branch, I thought about how I should hang on with faith, despite the windy thoughts blowing through my mind. To have faith that the Lord is in charge and I have no reason to be fearful. That little bird did not look afraid, in fact I am sure that the lack of fear helped him to withstand the heavy wind. Some days like today, thoughts that should make me fearful and fret need to be ignored. I need to be just like that little bird and hang onto the branch in faith and know that the Lord will provide. I need to present my worries to the Lord and dwell on the things I am thankful for today.  I must pray believing that He has already answered my prayer and give thanks instead of giving way to worry and fret.By being thankful and singing praise, I will still the winds of negative thoughts and regain my perspective. Perhaps then I too can cling to my branch despite the winds of adversity threatening to take away my joy.

“He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” Luke 8:25         

 

Easter

“For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

 Last March I was inspired to write a poem about the Forget-Me-Not Cross. I never thought for a moment I was writing it to help me through a trial that I would endure several months later:

In a field of green hills and flora,

I could see a vision of grace and familiarity,

There stood the cross left in all it’s glory,

with spirit-filled memory.

The closer I came, the more perfect it’s reminder,

as a carpet of flowers adorned each bough,

And once I touched my Savior’s cross,

I remembered what He did for thou.

For on the cross lay hundreds of flowers,

draped over my Lord’s gift to me,

Each one a sweet forget-me-not,

A fragrant reminder to stay close to Thee.  

Months after I wrote this, I was facing a difficult trial regarding my daughter. The grief I felt was almost unbearable. None-the-less I had to see my 81 year old mother for mother’s day, so I got in the car and drove four hours. Along the way I stopped at my favorite place in the whole world…Stowe Vermont and the beautiful Von Trapp Lodge. As I walked through the fields and photographed the beauty around me I hoped to find some grace amongst the beauty. I came upon a spot I have never noticed before, as I walked through the path I looked down and saw a bunch of forget-me-nots. A little further and I was in the grotto and came upon the cross, and there He was in all His Glory, Jesus. Just like in my poem reminding me to Forget-Not who is there for me. I wept at His grace. You see I was walking in my poem and He was with me under that magnificent sky against those majestic mountains. I have been visiting the Von Trapp Lodge for over tens years, and I have never walked on that path, nor saw the cross. The timing was perfect…God’s timing for me to discover such a beautiful place on such a day of despair. He is always with us, all that we need to do is not forget what He did for us on that cross.  

The Poetry of Scripture

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My daughter Sarah, gave me a beautiful pen for Christmas called a poetry pen.  I love the feel of the pen in my hand and the style suits me perfectly.  The style is vintage and it made me think of lovely ladies from another time sitting in their drawing room clothed in brocade trimmed gowns, writing poetry to be illuminated in books for keepsakes.

On my bookshelf I found two treasures this morning.  A Treasury of The World’s Best Loved Poems and The Book of Psalms.  I love poetry and certainly the sonnets of love are music to our ears when a wonderful romantic love is alive.  Yet, during my lifetime I have learned that romance wanes and sometimes romantic love disappoints.  The Psalms however, are written to remind us that not only does God love us, but He is there always in the middle of adversity.  He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  His promises found in the scriptures of the Word of God reminds us how faithful He is to us, how He surrounds us with His angels, and He is always there to restore us.

Psalm 46 1-5

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore I will not we fear, though the earth be removed and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.  There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.  God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved.  God shall help her and that right early.”

My favorite Psalm which has helped me through so many difficulties is Psalm 91 and I prefer The King James translation because of it’s poetic words:

Psalm 91:1-6

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in Him will I trust.  Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler and from the noisome pestilence.  He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust, his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.  Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night nor for the arrow that flieth by day, nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness nor the destruction that wasteth at noonday.” 

That Psalm is my shield and I rely on those words whenever I need comfort and protection. 

My favorite verse from Psalm 91 is verse eleven:

“For he shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all they ways.”

In the book The Timeless Treasure, a commentary on the Song of Solomon Luann Dunnuck leads us through the Song of Solomon and how God has written this beautiful poetry to us.  She says “When I begin to feel discouraged and frustrated, I open my Bible to the Song of Solomon for encouragement.”  Her commentary is fabulous and leads you through each verse and interprets for us the meaning behind the symbols.

“When I found the one I love, I held him and would not let him go” Chapter 3 verse 4

When we finally understand how much God loves us, it is easy to read how He will not let us go.  In verse 9  it is written “The Beloved you have ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; you have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes, with one link of your necklace.”  When I read the book of Ruth for my Bible study I could see how the love Ruth finds is so much like our Lord and Savior.  Ruth found a wealthy man who became her provider, someone who cherished her and gave her his promise of forever love.  Our Lord has given us His promise to love us forever, and God has a storehouse of blessings that He wants to shower us with.  I love that we are His Beloved, you are His Beloved and there is no greater love than the love of God.

“I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” Chapter 6 verse 3

I love this verse because it reminds me that I am God’s beloved, and so are you.  When I finally understood this, I stopped relying on the approval of people because I have God’s approval and that is the most valuable love you kind find.  In Isaiah 55 there is an invitation to come sit with God and read His poetry found in His Word and to come to know that He is Lord and He longs to spend time with us and to give us His rich blessings. The milk is His Word and the honey is His sweet promise to us. We can come to God without earning His reward, but come as we are to His throne and sit with Him a while, as He pours out HIs blessings through His Word.

 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

In Isaiah 55 He promises us that when we speak His Word and we listen to God speak to us, it will accomplish great things:

“So is my word that goes out from my mouth:It will not return to me empty,but will accomplish what I desireand achieve the purpose for which I sent it .

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;the mountains and hillswill burst into song before you,and all the trees of the fieldwill clap their hands.”

The poetry of scripture is a beautiful Word from God written to let us know how much He loves us.  No matter what the translation of the Bible you read, the poetry of God’s Word, will comfort you and renew your spirit when trials leave you weary.  The poetry of scripture will uplift your heart better than any love sonnet can.  To read God’s promises as He asks us to be still and listen to  His Word, will renew your spirit so that you may receive the blessings God has for you.  The poetry of scripture teaches us, His purpose for our lives and it fills us with hope and with His love.  David sang praises to God, he knew the love that God has for anyone who listens and hears the Word of God will be blessed.

“Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.  I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”

Isaiah 55:3

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